Sub-Saharan Africa vegetable makeover part of what makes UCU best at exhibition
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/04/sub-saharan-africa-vegetable-makeover-part-of-what-makes-ucu-best-at-exhibition/
NOTE: Uganda Christian University (UCU) captured first place among 48 higher education institutions in the 11th Annual Exhibition of the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) in Uganda in March. Among displays representing UCU and contributing to this honor was the nakati experiment described in this article.
By Patty Huston-Holm
What’s liquid, full of vitamins, green and with a name common to most East Africans?
Ummm. Yes, but perhaps it needs another title. While some Ugandans have fond childhood memories of chewing onnakati as their parents wove a tale of how it would increase their intelligence, most turn up their noses at the green, leafy vegetable’s bitter taste and the remembrance of times when the family could afford little else.
Nakati, which also is known as African eggplant, needs to rise above its bad reputation, according to two Uganda Christian University (UCU) Food Science and Technology students and their teaching assistant. They aim to do just that by using it as the main ingredient in beverage and food recipes that reinforce nutritional value and good taste.
Jovan Kyambadde, teaching assistant, UCU Department of Agricultural and Biological Science, and students Athieno Sheilla and Alexis Ossiya, explain that the nutrition part is that nakati is full of iron and vitamins. Adding sweet-tasting ingredients masks the unpleasant flavor. After dodging raindrops to pluck nakati leaves from their Mukono campus garden and purchasing fruit outside the campus gate on the afternoon of March 6, they chopped, cut and blended the juice, sharing a not-so-secret recipe.
- Four medium size mangos and one-fourth of a pineapple for flavor, one lemon for increased vitamin C and preservative, one freshly picked bunch of nakati (main ingredient) and honey for sweetener.
Nakati is the main ingredient because it has certain special health benefits such as cancer-fighting compounds, anti-aging properties, and proper bone and brain development. Mangoes and pineapples likewise are rich in vitamins and antioxidants that help to prevent cancer, improve skin complexion and greatly boost immunity.
The taste-testers on this day were five nearby students, who gave mixed reactions about thickness, sweetness and whether they would prefer this no-added-sugar, vegetable and fruit juice over the more common, sugar-added, fruit-only beverages.
“We plan to do more testing with students in the large cafeteria,” Sheilla said. “We think we could make money and help others do it.”
While one end result is making money for the inventors and healthier lifestyles for their customers, this project also is about helping Uganda’s local farmers with their profits, Jovan explained, adding, “Everywhere you look in Uganda, there’s nakati.”
The students prepared the drink using an electric blender. But for locals without electricity and a mechanical mixer, the juice still can be made with added shredding, pounding and hand pressure, using a sieve to filter out the juice.
Under the title “Better Vegetables, Better Lives,” the UCU Department of Agricultural and Biological Science works with a dozen other partners to improve production and use of African indigenous vegetables for greater nutrition and income. The plan is to not only share nakati products on the university campus, but also to teach local farmers how to do the same.
According to UCU Professor Elizabeth Balyejusa Kizito, changing dietary and lifestyle preference is one main reason that vegetables like nakati and another green leafy vegetable called doodo are being cast aside for less indigenous and less healthy fried chips and samosas. Sub-Saharan children have the highest rates of anemia and malnutrition in the world. UCU is on an action research mission to change that.
Each Wednesday morning, the students and staff of the Department of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at UCU board a bus, and after a 45-minute drive, are dropped off to work with local farmers.
“The farmers have come to regard themselves as university teachers, which they are in that they put our students’ learning in real context,” Jovan said. “At the same time, our students are teaching the farmers what they know about crop rotation, germination, higher yield and marketing.”
Nakati, for example, is going to waste when it could be used for juice, biscuits and other products. In addition to experimentation with nakati beverages, the students are exploring use of the vegetable with g-nuts and other ingredients for snacks.
“When I was a little girl, I was told that eating nakati would make me more intelligent,” Sheilla said. “I know now that’s not true, but using nakati in recipes is pretty smart.”
To support this program or others at UCU, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button or contact Uganda Christian University Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at firstname.lastname@example.org