Pretoria - “Africa has more native cereals than any other continent,” according to Noel D Vietmeyer in the foreword of Lost Crops of Africa, a three-part publication.
“It has its own species of rice, as well as finger millet, fonio, pearl millet, sorghum, tef, guinea millet and several dozen wild cereals whose grains are eaten from time to time.
“This is a food heritage that has fed people for generation after generation, stretching back to the origins of humankind. It is also a local legacy of genetic wealth upon which a sound food future might be built.”
Sadly, this genetic wealth has been overlooked. For the food innovator, though, this is good news.
“By promoting tasty, beautifully presented food, these lost crops may be celebrated in a new way that could incentivise further exploration in the whole food system environment,” said Dr Hennie Fisher of the Department of Consumer and Food Sciences at the University of Pretoria.
Over the past few years, researchers in this department (with the departments of Plant and Soil Sciences, the Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development, Animal Science and the Faculty of Humanities) have developed innovative food products.
Examples of these include idombolo with Mondia whitei; a vegetable “cheese” made from tiger nuts; steamed sorghum and nasturtium flower petal bread; carissa (Carissa macrocarpa) or num num sorbet; horned melon (Cucumis metulifer) jelly; kei apple (Dovyalis caffra) powder; marula (Sclerocarya birrea) pulp incorporated into fruit cake and made into a sphere by applying spherification, a molecular gastronomy technique, and served with shellfish; amaranth double-baked soufflé; amaranth risotto; dried amaranth powder baked into sourdough breads; roasted Bambara (Vigna subterranean) ice cream and much more.
“We can no longer ignore the importance of our indigenous foods for their nutritional value, safety, sensory characteristics, convenience, affordability and consequently the entrepreneurial opportunities they hold …” Fisher said.