Forget wheat! Time to eat sweet potato bread

The orange-fleshed sweet potato 

Sweet potato bread can replace up to 50 per cent of wheat flour needed in baked goods, reducing pressure on Kenya’s wheat import as grain shortage continues.

Less than 20 per cent of Kenya’s wheat demand is produced locally with the rest coming from imports mainly from Ukraine, Russia, and South America.

In 2020, only 270,000 tonnes of wheat were produced locally, according to Cereal Growers Association.

Already, demand for 17 million sweet potato loaves annually exists in Kenya, according to researchers from the International Potato Centre (CIP).

“Sweet potato flour processing is a perfect example of how investing in underutilised, perishable, and seasonally available crops can unlock multiple benefits,” said Joyce Maru, senior programme coordinator at CIP.

The orange-fleshed sweet potato is rich in Vitamin A and can be used as a health ingredient in Africa’s expanding bakery industry. When processed, its flour is healthier than wheat and provides income to small-scale producers across the continent.

The ongoing food crises, extreme weather events and other shocks present an opportunity for its demand to grow as a nutritious alternative to replace wheat in widely consumed local products.

Intake of sweet potato flour is expected to increase the supply of beta-carotene which helps to control Vitamin A deficiency, especially in children.

Experts believe diversifying orange-fleshed sweet potato use from household consumption to the food industry is a step towards scaling up benefits to larger populations including in Africa’s growing cities.

“Commercial processing as a nutritious ingredient in the bakery sector has taken off in several African countries since 2019,” said Simon Heck, programme director at CIP.

According to Heck, the product sells at a premium of 10 per cent more in the market compared to regular wheat bread, reflecting consumer demand for healthier options. Researchers are preparing to release a shelf-stable version of the flour in Kenya that can last for longer without refrigeration. This breakthrough innovation will enable the addition of valuable nutrients to school meals and weaning foods. Processing sweet potatoes into flour helps farmers to reduce post-harvest losses of sweet potato roots while also improving household incomes, especially for women.

“At present, food systems are heavily dependent on rice, maize and wheat, yet other nutritious staple crops like sweet potato offer enormous potential to diversify diets, production and incomes and reduce exposure to shocks like the current food crisis,” said Maru. 

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