The Nigeria Crowned King Of Crops And Cuisines: Yam!

Nigeria is the world’s highest producer of yams; a staple crop of economic importance as the lifeline and a major source of income for millions of Nigerians with an amazing cultural significance and value in the lives and homes of all Nigerians, crisscrossing all tribes, cultures, cuisines and traditional practices, standing very tall as a symbol of respect and relevance in all things prestigious. Yams with their very high production costs are very profitable but a tuber of yams in northern Nigeria is so expensive that only the very rich can afford to buy. The white Yam tubers are known as “Doya” while “Dankali mai zaki” is the sweet potatoes in Hausa, the Igbo name for a tuber of yam is “Ji” while Yams are called “Ejikarikwa Ji”, and “Isu” for the white yam and “Isu Ewura” for the wild purple yam in Yoruba.
Yams play a very important cultural role in Nigeria especially the Southern and Western parts of the Nation; yams are used for traditional cuisines during inaugurations, weddings and naming ceremonies, fertility sacrifices, festivals, and funerals which are tagged a celebration of life. The Igbo land of Eastern parts of Nigeria honors the yam with the new yam festivals that are celebrated annually and are performed after harvesting and before eating the new yams. Yams are one of the most favored staple crops in Nigeria, white yams are different from sweet potatoes but both are referred to as tubers. White yam tubers have distinct features, and most varieties are hairy, with a rough surface, having a tube-like shape, its flesh is much more starchy, less sweet than the sweet potatoes, processed into yam starch and yam flours popularly known as the instant pounded yam flour, called “Elubo dudu” for the dark-colored yam flour and “Elubo fufu” for the white yam flour in Yoruba.

The Nigeria culture and the position of the yam tubers:- The feast of the new yam is a festival to celebrate the yams harvest, to honor the earth goddess and the ancestral spirits of the clan and only the freshly harvested yams are good enough for the gods of the land. A great feast for the “Ndigbo” is the celebration of life during the new yam festival popularly called “Iwa-Ji Ohuu” or “Iri-Ji Ohuu”. It is the new year for the new yams and at the end of the rainy season on the evening before the day of the feast; all the old yams from the preceding year are consumed or discarded; withholding a cultural belief that the new year must start with the new yams, during which the new yams are offered to the gods and ancestors first to seek their permission and blessings before the village dwellers are allowed to have a taste of the fresh new yams. The amazing importance of yam tubers to the Nigerian people and their tradition can never be overemphasized; yams are the most essential food staple for the “Ndigbo”; the number of yams a man can successfully cultivate, cash it in both monetary value and food security is associated with a man’s greatness as an influential personality in his clan because for the Igbo’s yams harvest determines the masculinity of the head of a household. 

All the sons and daughters return home for the festival to celebrate and support their own culture, clans, and family; The feast of the yams brings together all the elders, dignitaries, chiefs, traditional rulers, and royal fathers from near and far to honor the land the king of crops; a beautiful ceremony of prayers, giving thanks, and seeking protection for the land takes place. The royal fathers recognize the good deeds, accomplishments, and investments of their sons and daughters by conferring on them chieftaincy titles to appreciate and encourage all the community contributors and investors. The cultural rites of the feast are carried out by the royal fathers of the land mostly the kings, traditional title holders, or the community elders; and the festival can only take off after the presentation of the necessary items for the ritual celebration of life such as the freshly harvested yams, palm wine, palm oil, kola nuts, garden eggs, pepper or pepper sauce, and other items that are demanded by the priest.

Another beautiful attractions are the young maidens in the community who collect and display assorted homegrown fruits in colorful baskets, with dances, drinking the palm wine, and eating roasted yam served with the red palm oil. The new yam festival for the Yoruba takes off early morning of the day where for some community it is a celebration of fertility; a young maiden dressed in white with a unique traditional hairstyle, followed by other maidens dressed like her singing is sighted carrying a basket of fruits all around the community early morning of the feast day, seeking for a fruitful year of a bountiful harvest and fertility. On the day of the celebration of the new yam, the priest is seen colorfully attired in the traditional costumes of the land, and during the ritual, the new yam priest stands before other guests, picks up the yam presenting it to the highest heavens, then recites the incantations for the Igbos but for the Yoruba the “oriki” praises are recited then offer it to the gods, deities, and ancestors, as a mark of greetings, gratitude to God for His mercies, protection, kindness, for a successful harvest that is free of calamities, disasters, diseases, and deaths. The libations are poured on the ground, some items and yams are symbolically given to the gods as their own share of the bountiful harvest. But for the Christians, yams are mostly presented in churches during thanksgiving among other cultural relevance.

The joy of the festival is celebrated with various community cultural groups performing dances, dramas, acrobatics, and singing songs of thanksgiving and praises; the celebration showcases a rainbow of masquerades, a lot of side attractions during the feast includes an endless array of cultural dances from all the different clans, and ethnic groups coming together to unite as one big family to celebrate the crowning of the king of all crops, the yam. The yam tuber is believed to be a true food regarded by some cultures to represent a symbol of fertility for a great season of good harvest which also signifies a fertile land for other crops to thrive abundantly. Delicacies unique to the land are served for the Yoruba it is the popular dish of “Amala” prepared with the yam flour served with the bean soup called gbigiri; whereby the Igbos serve the pounded yam with ogbono or egusi soup but the roasted yam on coal fire serve with the red palm oil is common to every tribe during the feast. 

The Yoruba traditional female drummers sing the praises known as the “Oriki” of the kings, royal fathers, elders, and important people in the society with every beat of the drum, beautifully dressed in the Yoruba costumes of “Aso-oke” a traditional hand-woven fabric. The feast for other tribes involves the young men who lead and perform to the drummers talking drum; all kinds of traditional drums are in attendance to perform telling a tale of ancient days. A festival of arts and cultures with the “irukere” which is the symbol of power and authority on hand as a staff of office waving in the air, adorned in the red coral beads called the “ileke” by the Yoruba as traditional costumes. The Ogidi New Yam Festival for the Yoruba is so unique that the masquerades from the spirit world perform amazing acrobatic moves to songs and beating of the drums while others are seen wearing traditional masks that are carved from wood other masquerades such as the “Igunnuko” that lengthens and shorten its form to admiration and amusements of spectators. The masquerade of fertility and bountiful harvest called “Agbo Olode” appears to bring down the rain for a new planting season; “Agbo Olode” prays and blesses barren women for the fruit of the womb, marriage for the singles, wealth for the poor, and fertile land for a bountiful harvest.

The new yam feast takes days to weeks for it to be celebrated, with a unique and beautiful display of costumes, cultural dances, drinking of local wines, and eating of traditional dishes. A spectacle of public parades of maidens and young men of the same age groups that have come of age, the exchange of visits and food delicacies prepared with the new yams, such as roasted yams served with red palm oil, pounded yam, yam pottage, or porridge cooked with the red palm oil, palm wine, and the newly harvested fresh yams, during the days of celebration no farming activities are allowed. The new yam festival is the feast of the pounded yam, which starts with the washing of cooking pots, calabashes, the mortar, and pestle for the pounding of the new yams. Pounding the new yams involves several women sweating over a single mortar with alternating pestle hitting the center of the mortar; it is absolutely an entertaining show to watch at times the young men take part in the pounding displaying muscle and strength, effortlessly pounding the yams.

YAM RECIPES:- Yams are not eaten raw, mostly eaten by boiling, roasting, baking, frying, or stewing; cooking with yams is extremely versatile with an incredibly unique culinary recipe throughout the world. A popular Nigerian snack is the deep-fried yam wedges prepared just like the Irish potato chips or french fries and served with a spicy pepper sauce like the Nigerian Dundun. The white yam tubers can be mashed and pounded into a thick starchy swallow called pounded yam, prepared into yam pottages or porridges, by stewing cubed yam with a variety of added vegetables and animal protein of one’s choice called “Asaro” in Yoruba or “Gwante doya” in Hausa, other yam recipes include candied yams prepared with a sweet glaze and baked in casseroles, boiled yams served with pepper sauce, scrambled eggs or stews, fried yams, amala or meal swallow prepared with the yam flour, yams can also be combined with beans, rice or any other crop of choice, the lists are endless.

Yam Flours:- There are two most popular; the instant yam flour for pounded yam is milky white in color and the deep dark brown yam flour for the Yoruba “Elubo”. The Yoruba elubo or instant yam flour are commonly sold in all market stalls, super-malls, and large stores; a very easy-to-find and use staple meal flour.

Yam Flour for Pounded Yam Cooked Meal Swallow:- The flour is mostly used for pounded yam swallow as a substitute for pounding the yam; which is prepared by cooking and turning the yam flour in hot boiling water, compare to sweating over the mortar and pestle.
The Recipe Steps:- Peel the white yam known and called the true yams; slice into the desired sizes and shapes, wash off the dirt and sands.
Parboil or blanch in hot water the yam slices, strain off the water, and dry under the sun or dehydrator until crispy dried.
Mill into a smooth yam flour, sieve, and store, and use for instant pounded yam.

The Elubo Flour for the Yoruba Amala swallow is processed by peeling the yams, slice them and parboil on low heat. After which it is removed from heat and allow to steep in the hot water for 24 hours or overnight.
One the day of drying; water is strain off, the parboiled yam slices are spread out to dry in a clean space under the sunshine, for oxidation to take place and the longer it stays in the sun the darker the yam flour becomes, depending also on the yam type used.
After drying, take to the mill and mill into a smooth flour called “Elubo” in Yoruba.
Sieve to remove fibers and debris, stored in covered containers, in a clean and dry place, use for the popular Yoruba Amala swallow, a deep brown color meal.

Amala Swallow:- A popular and cherished food for the Yoruba of western Nigeria which is prepared with the “elubo” flour.
Recipe Ingredients:-
Yam flour.
Food turner or spatula.

Recipe Steps:-
Put water to boil on medium heat, once the water begins to boil, reduce heat, take out of the boiling water, and reserve for use later. Add quickly all the elubo flour at once into the simmering pot of boiling water. Immediately and very fast turning the flour to make the dough meal, turn using the stirring stick or spatula until all the elubo is well combined in a rough dough.
Add some of the hot water reserved over the cooking dough, cover, and allow to steam for some minutes.
Turn once again until all the added water is absorbed, and the Amala forms a very smooth, soft, and fluffy meal for an easy swallow.

Pounded Yam:- A starchy smooth swallow; Mortar and pestle are the real and authentic tools to pound the yams, in order to achieve the starchy stringy, smooth to swallow which takes lots of strength and sweats to make pounded yam. There is now an electronic yam pounder to make pounding yams easier; the same result can be achieved using the food processor which makes it less tedious with no sweat. Easy to use, just put the boiled yam into the food processor and run it until it becomes very smooth with a dough-like softness. Scoop and mold, then serve with any soup of choice.
Recipe Ingredients:- Yam, water, mortar, and pestle for pounding.
The true yam is a dark brown rough skin, with a white starchy fleshy tuber.
Lots of water enough to boil the yams and to use in pounding the boiled yams.

Recipe Steps:-
The required quantity of yam does not necessarily equal the pounded yam, after pounding the quantity reduces to just half of the size of boiled yams.
Peel the yam, slice, and cut into chunks for easy pounding not too small and not too big, for uniform doneness.
Wash repeatedly in clean water to remove and reduce the slimy covering of starch.
Arrange carefully in a deep pot, add water to cover it, place on medium heat, and cook until tender enough to pound easily.
Cooking an old yam requires more water to cook and pound to a soft and smooth swallow free of lumps, while the new yam is easier and faster to cook requiring less water, unlike the old yam.
Wash and towel dry the mortar and pestle, pick each cooked yam individually into the mortar, avoid any yam broth from getting into the mortar at the very beginning of pounding, to avoid lumps. Pound into a solid, sticky, starchy, and smooth dough meal. To soften the pounded yam swallow according to choices; add water of the boiled yam and continue to pound until the swallow reaches the smooth and soft texture for easy swallowing.
Scoop, mold into balls and wrap up with a cling film, place in a food warmer; it is best to serve hot.
Serve hot with any soup of choice, or egusi, beans, vegetable, ogbono, fresh fish pepper soup with okro or ewedu known as jute leaf soup.

Yummy Yam Pottage:- A one-pot complete meal known as yam stew prepared with a soupy or crumbling appearance just according to one’s choice or how it will be served. A deliciously versatile recipe with any added ingredients blending in well.
Recipe Ingredients:- White yam tuber, Smoked fish, or meat (optional).
Bell pepper, onions, scotch bonnets, garlic, crayfish, palm oil, tomatoes, salt, seasoning cubes, and spinach, or green vegetable of choice.
Vegetable oil or palm oil.

Recipe Steps:-
Peel, wash, and slice yam into chunk size cubes.
Place into a deep pot, add just some water to cover the base of the pot.
Wash and remove the bone of fish, place on the yam, add chopped onions, salt, and seasoning cubes. Simmer gently on low heat to medium heat.
There are two ways in preparing the yam pottage; to add in all the chopped bell pepper, scotch bonnet, tomatoes, and onions or to blend coarsely then stir-fry in palm oil before adding to the simmering yam on low heat. Fold in gently, cover, and simmer for a few minutes. Lastly, add in the shredded green vegetables, then cover and allow the simmering heat to cook the green leaves until all water content evaporates, just before it starts to stick to the pot, remove from the heat. Serve warm or cold as a main meal with a side dish of choice.
Some recipes allow the yam to thicken and dry up, then mash slightly for a crumbling meal while others allow some soupy broth to serve with the yam chunks.

Fried Yam:- A deep-fried dish like the french fries or the potatoes chips, served with scrambled eggs, omelet or any fried eggs recipes, others prefer the pepper sauce as a dip for the fried yam, served mostly as snacks for lunch with fruits juices or for breakfast with beverages in the morning.
Recipe Ingredients:- The White Sweet Yams.
Eggs(beaten eggs as coating or spicy white flour mixture).
Salt to taste.
Vegetable oil for frying.

Recipe Steps:-
Peel and slice the white yams into circles or slice them up into french fries shapes, long slices to dip in sauces.
Wash the yam until the slimy and starchy covering is all washed off.
Strain the water and sprinkle salt, chili, or mixed spices. Toss well to coat.
Heat up vegetable oil in a deep saucepan or frying pan and add onion slices to saute in the oil, to give a delicious flavor.
When the vegetable oil is heated to the correct temperature for frying add the seasoned yams slices in batches, not too much to avoid bringing down the temperature of the oil, to also avoid it sticking together and to give space for easy turning of the frying yams to cook on both sides.
The second method is to dip and coat the seasoned yams slices in beaten eggs or the flour batter, before frying but note here, very little vegetable oil is used for frying just enough to coat the base of a flat frying pan. Fry on both sides to a light golden brown. After frying, remove and place on a paper napkin to help absorb excess oil.
Serve with any fried egg recipes, stews, sauces, or stir-fry spring onions or vegetable sauce.

Fried Yam “Dun-Dun” In Yoruba:- The white yam is the best to use for this most popular street food in Nigeria, which is prepared and sold in a series of delicious recipes; served with pepper sauce called “Ata dindin” in Yoruba. The yam is tasty with a crispy feel on the outside covering and a soft crumbling middle. This delicacy is sold on the street, close to office buildings, schools, hospitals, parks, shopping centers, and the market places.
Recipe Ingredients:-
White Yam Tuber.
Vegetable Oil for frying.
Salt to taste.

Recipe Steps:-
The frying involves two methods either by frying the raw yam slices directly in the hot oil with an added water to boil, soften the yams as it fries, or to first parboil the yam and then deep fry it in hot oil; but for a deliciously crispy sweet fried yam, it is always best to first parboil the yam before frying.
Peel the yam, slice into a uniform cute shape, a little bigger than the size of a french fries just about thrice its size. Wash the slices of yam very well. Place in a pot with some water and salt to taste. Boil the yams halfway to the doneness that is to parboil.
Strain water, and remove the parboil yams into a perforated dish bowl, to drain out most of the water before frying.
Place a deep saucepan on medium heat, pour in the vegetable oil, add onion slices, then carefully drop in the yam with a perforated spoon or a kitchen tong, to avoid the hot oil splattering and causing burns.
Fry the yam on both sides until crispy and golden brown. Carefully remove from hot oil and place on kitchen napkins. Serve with any sauce or stew of choice, fried eggs or serve alone. It can also be served with plantain “Dodo” in Yoruba, spring onions or onion sauce is a deliciously spicy way to serve “Isu Dun-Dun” the sweet fried yam.

Candied Yam:- A sweet side dish, creamy deliciousness, yummy and buttery goodness mostly served during Thanksgiving dinner.
Recipe Ingredients:- Yams.
The flavor of choice, nutmeg vanilla extracts, cloves, and ginger.
Butter or Olive oil for a healthy substitute.
Brown sugar or Organic honey for a healthy substitute.

Recipe Steps:-
Peel and cut yams into cubes. Wash and place into a pot, add water enough to cook, boil until tender.
Preheat the oven; strain the water from the cooked yams and arrange evenly into a baking dish.
Melt butter, sugar, and flavor together then pour over raw yam or mix together olive oil, honey, and any flavor of choice. Another alternative to mixing and melting all liquid caramel coating but add to yam is to sprinkle directly all over the yam brown sugar but for a healthy alternative drizzle organic honey instead all over the yam. Top yam with cubed butter evenly or better still drizzle olive oil as a healthy substitute for the butter.
Place in the oven to bake for few minutes; check and gently toss evenly for the mixture to coat yam. Place back into the oven and bake for a few more minutes, remove and serve warm.

Health Benefits Of The White Yam Tubers:- The yam tubers provide valuable health benefits; to improve on the daily diet it is highly recommended to add yams to the daily diet, great for all ages and the overall healthy well-being. The yams tubers are starchy with a great load of carbohydrates but guarantee a lot of other health benefits including a strong place in traditional medicine such as the treatment of stomach conditions like indigestion, poor appetite, kidney and spleen health remedies.
Yams have one of the highest amounts of potassium among all the staple foods and low in saturated fat, also very little sodium; this great combination with folate contributes to the reduction of hypertension and relaxes blood vessels while maintaining proper blood flow. The yam components of potassium, folate, and various antioxidants provide neurological benefits, with folate that is known to reduce the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline. While potassium has been linked to the increased blood flow to the brain and neural activity by heightening cognition concentration. Yams are so rich in Vitamin B6, and potassium which all help to improve heart health, lowering the risk of death from heart diseases. Yams are loaded with the essential mineral of manganese which is vital for enzymes that control blood sugar, energy, metabolism, and thyroid function. The Vitamin C content of yams helps the body develop resistance and strengthen the immune system against infections and diseases; helps to eliminate cancer-causing free radicals in the body. Yam excellent fiber contents are beneficial for gut health; deliciously filling giving one a prolonged feeling of satiety, making the bowel movement easier to manage which helps in preventing diarrhea and constipation.

Sustainable Yam Production:- In Nigeria yams are so expensive and unaffordable for most dwellers in the cities; as production growth of the yam has not kept pace with population growth where demand now exceeds supply. Climate change has a critical negative impact that is affecting agricultural productivity and food security in Nigeria MOST especially the yam produce and this is due to the fact that smallholder farmers in developing countries like Nigeria solely depend on rainwater for crop production. The unpredictable changes in the onset of rains, unexpected dry spell, all result in harvest failures in Nigeria and other ecosystems that rely on rain-fed agriculture.
There is the need to develop more sustainable ways of farming yams which require solutions to overcome the challenges facings farmers such as pests, diseases, and harvest losses amongst other problems. The low quality of life in the yam-producing villages with a dependence and reliance on rituals for yam fertility and high yields; with zero formal education predisposes the farmers in Nigeria to unorthodox yam production practices leading to low yields. An inclusive approach for the tropical tuber crop production is necessary to curtail the challenges smallholder farmers face that will make for sustainable yam production in order to improve food security, income, and environmental sustainability for farmers and stakeholders. Absolutely necessary is to find more innovative ways of yam production which must involve the use of improved yam seed quality, the solution to soil fertility problems, addressing land scarcity, and the use of other farming methods as an alternative to the unpredictable rainfall in places where the most vulnerable lives. Yams assists in cardiovascular to nervous health, great for the hair and skin; eating yams aids collagen production in the body, rebuilding cells, fighting free radicals, helps heal skin and wounds fast. Honor your plate today with the delicious crown of the king of all crops; yummy yam!