Ever heard of maize sandwiches? Or thought of chapati made from maize? Far-fetched as it seems, reality of these products is here with us following the launch of a technology capable of making various sizzling maize products.
Smart Harvest attended the launch of nixtamalisation milling machine that mills treated maize into a raw material for an assortment of value-added maize products. Onlookers watched in awe as a variety of maize food items they had never seen before were served by Mexican experts during the launch at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Juja campus.
They took calculated bites on tiny pellet-like crunchy rolls, then eagerly munched pieces of meats sandwiched in maize wrappings and dug their teeth in meaty balls which they later learnt were tamales, different dishes of Mexican origin made of maize and filled with meat, cheeses, fruits and vegetables.
Curiously, they took sips of drinks they learnt were recipes of maize treated in lime, a process known as nixtamalisation. Nixtamalisation in Kenya traces its journey to when Erasmo Martinez, Ambassador of Mexico, tabled his credentials to President Uhuru Kenyatta in August 2015.
According to Mr Martinez, it was during this time that the two countries deliberated on transferring Mexican nixtamalisation technique to Kenya. He said the machine was part of the negotiations of a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in agriculture between Mexico and Kenya.
“The draft MoU foresees different forms of bilateral cooperation including exchange of experts, scientists, training, genetic material, technology improvement, as well as involvement of private business in market facilitation activities,” said Martinez.
He expressed optimism that nixtamalisation technology was poised to secure the country’s food security.
Speaking during the launch, JKUAT Vice Chancellor Mabel Imbuga said the university was best placed to host one of the only two nixtamalisation machines in Kenya. The other machine, also from Mexico, was delivered to the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) in April 2016.
“This institution is strong in agriculture, mechanisation and value addition technologies and this makes JKUAT the best placed candidate to be the champion and ambassador of nixtamalisation technology transfer across East Africa and the region at large,” said Prof Imbuga.
JKUAT Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Research, Production and Extension Mary Abukutsa said the technology was poised to complement other food security and nutritional research interventions already being implemented at the university.
HOW IT WORKS
Nixtamalisation is the process whereby corn is treated in lime, cooked, dried and ground to produce flour used to make tortilla, a type of Mexican pancake and other snacks. The process involves mixing 300 grams of lime in 35 litres of boiling water. The mixture is stirred with a lot of caution to avoid spilling.
Lime is primarily increase the temperature and density of water, according to Mexican experts who offered demonstrations at the launch. It also modifies the Ph of water to control aflatoxin in maize.
About 13 kilos of maize are added to the mixture while stirring gently. Stirring goes on for about 15 minutes during which the husks on the corn peel off. The corn is left for eight hours after which it is milled in the nixtamalisation machine. The machine is a traditional grinding tool with a trough that has screws that convey the maize to two grinding stones.
There is also a tap above the trough that lets in water to the soft maze so that what comes out eventually is a soft maize paste instead of powdered flour.
To make nixtamalised flour for ugali, treated corn is allowed to dry before it is milled. But when the paste is dried, the result is tortilla, from which a variety of other products can be made. These include sandwiches, crunchy corn chips and juices. Tortilla is a Mexican thin, flat pancake made from maize flour, eaten hot or cold, typically with any sort of food filling.
Experts observed that the technology can be adopted as a post-harvest method of reducing exposure to aflatoxin, a toxin produced by certain fungi found on agricultural crops such as maize and ground nuts. This may occur due to poor storage techniques or harvesting of unripe grains. Aflatoxin is a major challenge in parts of Kenya, with a 45 per cent magnitude in Eastern Kenya.
But when the maize is cooked in lime, experts say the resultant tortilla has an up to 58 per cent reduction in aflatoxin.
The lime or sodium hydroxide also increases the calcium to phosphorus ratio in tortilla which makes its intake nutritionally similar to that of milk. There is also increased variety of maize uses.
Experts at the launch observed that in cultures in Kenya, the list of maize-related food products doesn’t go beyond 10 items, including Ugali, githeri, mukimo, nzenga and porridge. Other few alternatives include roasting and boiling maize cobs.
Mexico on the other hand has 300 different nixtamalised products from which about 600 different maize-related food items are made. According to Dr Charles Bett from KALRO, consumption of maize in Kenya will increase with expansion of varieties of maize-related food products.
“Most young people, especially those raised in town don’t like Ugali. But if you give them maize chips and crisps, or even a drink made from maize, they will gladly take it,” said Dr Bett.