Wheat is usually the first ingredient that comes to the mind when one thinks of baking. Have you ever thought of other types of flour that are equally good, healthy, nourishing and gluten-free?
Some 800 metres from Chuka town, right behind Chuka Girls, Nancy Kendi’s love for good food has pushed her to use the nutritive underutilised flours.
Kendi makes her pastries from sorghum, banana, pearl millet, cassava and banana flour. She also uses herbs and spices to season up some of her products.
The 29-year-old business administration graduate says the flour provides sustainable quantities of nutrients, especially for people on tight budgets, the elderly and the young, “yet it is not consumed in the right proportions”.
“To create an avenue for a higher nutritional intake in a semi-arid region like Tharaka-Nithi, I had to devise an appealing way to make locals take up nutrients in these foods which are readily available, but largely ignored,” she said.
Kendi started baking using the unique flour in 2016 as a way of doing away with “the usual boring way of mashing, boiling or roasting food”. She makes banana chapati, banana cake, banana crisps, banana chevdas, beetroot cake, composite cake and many other delicacies.
Kendi started by baking for her family before offering her products to friends. “Every time I saw my family and friends enjoy the snacks, I was sure they were getting the right nutrients,” Kendi explains.
She sources the flour from registered self-help groups. Upon getting the flour, Kendi works on the quantities as she has a variety of recipes.
She says many people are ignorant of the fact that traditional flour can improve their health. She learnt to bake at meetings organised by the county Agriculture department.
She also attended UN Food and Agriculture Organisation workshops at the Kaguru farm in Meru County in February.
She also got opportunities to showcase her skills and products at various forums, including the Devolution Conference in Kirinyaga and in Njoro, Nakuru County, during World Food Day on October 16, 2018. To improve her skills, Kendi enrolled for online baking classes.
“Food and nutrition play an important role in determining and maintaining our health,” Kendi told Seeds Of Gold, adding that consumption of whole-grain products, especially in developing countries, is far below what is recommended by experts.
She says people should take advantage of the nutritional aspects of the neglected flour to live healthy. Many plants, she says, have important nutrients and therapeutic properties.
“These different types of flour have many uses. The foods are easily digested. The flour is readily available and cheap,” Kendi said. Millet, for example, provides a wide range of health benefits.
It contains minerals, dietary fibre, and protein. It also has a significant amount of vitamins and is a source of macronutrients, she added.
“Sorghum improves digestion and has dietary fibre. It prevents bloating and cramping,” she said.
“It manages diabetes and helps improve bone health due to the high quantity of calcium. Sorghum increases the circulation of copper, iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium and other minerals in the body. Cassava is rich in vitamins, minerals and is a good source of vitamin C.”
The benefits of traditional flour are countless, said Benald Kinoti, a nutritionist and extension officer in Meru County.
“They are gluten and aflatoxin-free and are packed with nutrients. They are actually better than any one single product of wheat,” he said.
“The banana, cassava, millet and other flour aid in the production of [beneficial] bacteria.”