With his company FK.N.STL, Nigerian chef Tunde Wey is working to recover the indigenous seasonings of Nigeria. Focusing on the fermented plant protein iru, Wey hopes to give consumers a better understanding of the impact that global brands have on local traditions.
Iru, the fermented locust bean, is one of many nutrient-rich condiments used to flavor traditional Nigerian soups and stews. Iru’s health benefits include antioxidant, immune-boosting, and probiotic properties.
In the 1950s, Nestle introduced factory-produced bouillon cubes to the Nigerian market. Even though the bouillon cubes don’t carry the same nutritional benefits as iru, they are marketed as an affordable and convenient alternative to traditional indigenous seasonings.
“Stock cubes have been able to spread because there’s money behind them. There’s processing might and marketing power,” says Ozoz Sokoh, a Nigerian chef, food historian, and culinary anthropologist.
As a result, the market for indigenous seasonings diminished, according to Slow Food. “The Nestle bouillon cubes… are siphoning resources away from the local [iru] industry,” Wey tells Food Tank.
But Sokoh explains that over the past decade, there has been a resurgence of traditional Nigerian ingredients like iru. No longer only available in open markets, small family businesses are now processing iru for sale in shops. Sokoh says that these businesses are marketing iru to attract consumers who would normally opt for stock cubes.
Though it retains links to more traditional cooking, iru’s renewed marketing has led cooks to embrace it in new dishes. “[Traditional ingredients are] still treasured because people now understand the layers of history and knowledge,” Sokoh tells Food Tank. Sokoh, who calls this trend New Nigerian cuisine, documents its evolution on her website, Kitchen Butterfly.
Through FK.N.STL, Wey also observes a growing interest in indigenous seasonings. This year, FK.N.STL partnered with single-origin spice company Burlap and Barrel to source iru for the U.S. market. They found that the condiment sold out within hours.
Wey hopes that as iru becomes more popular, consumers will seek out its history as well.
Photo courtesy of Ozoz Sokoh