The staple foods market in Southwest Nigeria has been dominated by Ijebu gari and Ibo or Delta gari for decades; but a recent market survey revealed the entrance of another brand of gari from Cotonou, the Togolese capital and some housewives are already in love with the brand.
A big time raw foodstuffs merchant in Idumu, Alimosho LGA of Lagos State, Mr. Sunday Onomoh confirmed to our correspondent that a foreign brand of gari “has been around for some time and customers are really preferring it over Ibo gari especially.”
He told Daily Times a 70kg bag of Ibo/Delta gari currently sells for between N4,300 to N6,000. Ijebu gari sells for N7,000, while the foreign Cotonou gari sells for N8,500 now. He said of the differences:
“I feel the Cotonou brand is very dry and contains no oil, so it is self preserving. Ijebu gari also can last for many months without going bad, but the Delta gari is difficult to preserve long enough to sell off, not to talk of keeping a bag at home. That’s why I don’t sell much of it.”
Chinonso Isama from Imo State feels it is a free market and everyone is entitled to their choice.
“Everybody has his or her own taste and this determines the brand of gari that sells more in the market. Until we came to Lagos, our own brand of gari was suitable for drinking and for making eba. Now some of us choose to drink Ijebu gari but prefer our own brand for eba.”
Yetunde Lateef from Abeokuta is a lover of Ijebu gari any day. She told Daily Times the uniqueness of the brand.
“If you want gari that is sour in taste, Ijebu gari it is; the uniqueness of Ijebu garri is its sour taste. In fact they now call it ‘killer’ because of its sour taste!”
Yetunde confessed she had never tasted another brand of gari since she was born. “Even if gari is imported now from London or anywhere, I will prefer to eat and drink Ijebu gari for as long as I live.”
On the health content of all three brands now in the Nigerian markets, a consusltant-nutritionist attached to St. Michael’s Hospital in Abule Oja, Lagos, Dr. Michael Maduka discussed the difference between Ijebu gari and Delta gari with our correspondent at his office last weekend.
In his analysis, Maduka revealed that the food values in both brands are worlds apart.
“Ijebu gari has the same wheat content as you have in elubo, which is ground dried cassava, or amala which is a favourite of the Yorubas in the Western part of the country.
“Its sour taste is the result of heavy degree of fermentation over longer period on high temperature which converts its starchy and sugary content into alcohol.
“As a result, its fibre texture is less than what you have in semovita or the Delta or Ibo brand of gari. Ijebu gari especially light and helpful to people who easily put on weight naturally and is recommended for those who really need to watch their weight.”
“On the other hand the yellow gari which is the main staple food of Niger Delta and the Eastern part of the country is heavy on starch though its starch-content can be reduced during production according to choice.
“Because it is rich in fibre, it aids weight gain and highly recommended for patients living with stomach ulcer. Either way both foods are staple; it’s a matter of choice for the individual.”
Barrister G.P. James of Citadel Chambers, Ajao Estate reacting to the presence of imported gari into Lagos markets said if any staple food is to be imported into Nigeria, it shouldn’t be gari. But of the competing Nigerian brands in the market, he recalled his late learned friend who got entangled with Ijebu gari.
“My senior learned friend, Kehinde Sofola (SAN) was from Ikene; he believed that the best way to control your weight, particularly at old age is to eat Ijebu gari, because it is starch-zero and that’s what nurtured him at his old age. No matter how much of it you take, whether as eba or you drink it, you won’t add weight. The fermentation is not a worry because the more it ferments the less acid it contains; so since the alcohol you have in cassava is starch, the fermentation takes away the starch.”
The lawyer affirms that the debris in Ijebu gari is the beauty of it. “The debris is the beauty of it; it confirms the degree of fermentation. It should not be poured out except perhaps just to remove dust it gathers if you buy it from the road side; but if you buy directly from Ijebu you should just enjoy it 100 percent.”
A 400 level student of economics at the Covenant University Sango, Edidiong James still recalls with some displeasure the first time mom brought Ijebu gari home.
“It was too sour, and it slapped my mouth when I first tasted it. It was difficult to adapt to it but after a while I got used to it and now I actually enjoy it, although always I add milk to it and still drink I with groundnut. Now I’ve grown to like it, even if mom brings yellow gari back to the house I will still prefer Ijebu gari.”
Her immediate junior also in the same school, Emmanuel Ukobong interjected that he prefers Ijebu gari for soaking but yellow gari for eba.” But if Ukobong a 200 level student of computer engineering can soak the yellow gari, what’s difficult in using the same for eba?
“Ijebu gari is sour, that’s why. I add sugar to it and soak it with cold water, that’s how I’m able to enjoy it, but with eba, no matter how you make it, the sour taste is always there.”
Would the young ones introduce Ijebu gari to their household when they marry?
Ukobong doesn’t think so because, he says, “There’re other alternatives like semovita, wheat, elubo, amala and so on.”
Our correspondent gathered that the foods department at the Covenant University provides only Ijebu gari for their students in campus so they are all forced to adapt to it. “Nobody has a choice”, said Ukobong, “It’s what we see that we eat.”
In a sharp reaction to the question, Mrs Chikanwanyi Maduka waived her right hand over her head and said, “Tufiakwa, God forbid bad thing. What will I do with Ijebu gari? I beg, ask better question, biko. Of all the gari under heaven, that gari is the worse: it smells, it is sour, tasteless and carries lots of dirty nyamanyama rubbish mixed with it.”
Mrs Biodun Oku is a Deltalite and resident of Ajegunle for 34 years. A wife and grandmother, Biodun says she has no reason whatsoever to eat or drink Ijebu gari.
“It’s not our kind of food whether to drink or make as eba. It smells; looks dirty and funny and tastes sour, so why should I bother with stuff like that?” Her husband, business man, community leader and socialite who has been in Ajegunle since 1973 says he doesn’t mind Ijebu gari for smoking (drinking) once in a long while. I know my people don’t particularly like it but I am a Lagos man and I run with anything Lagos.”
Mrs Annah Eluchie Chineye, born in Irete Omuoyo village Umungwu-Nnakoroche; Owerri in Imo State of Nigeria is a mother of six boys (no girls!), a fashion designer and a minister. She narrates her encounter with Ijebu gari.
“My first encounter with Ijebu gari was at Festac town in 1989 when I just got married; I was 23 years old then. We were living in 1st Avenue, 541 Road, Block 7 Flat 10; there were some Yorubas living in that our area. My immediate neighbour was a Yoruba and we had this old woman called Mama Kayode who sold gari tied in small, transparent nylons; that was where I came in contact with Ijebu gari for the first time. Soon I found myself buying it but only for soaking and drinking.
“I confess I didn’t enjoy it that time because it had a sour taste compared to the normal gari I knew from home; but it was something I couldn’t help because it was sold right under my nose at the corridor of my residence; then everyone were drinking it, even drinking it with their hand, not with spoon.
“Well, just seeing them drinking it all the time like that, I decided to try it too, and from there I joined the wagon and started drinking it little by little, savouring its funny taste, and eventually I began to like it. That was how I got hooked.”
Hannah makes a point about Ijebu gari as food in her home.
“It’s not part of our menu being that Ijebu gari is not part of our food when you talk about native foods, but the children grew up to like it; not that I introduced it to them, but when I buy it to drink, they used to drink it with me. If you have to buy gari for your household, do you buy Ijebu gari?”
The first time she served her husband Ijebu gari, Hannah recalls there was a mild drama at the dining table.
“Ah, when he tasted it he commented that this gari is sour; I said yes, that it is Ijebu gari and he just summoned up courage and ate it.”
Furthermore Hannah has some civil, noble and philosophical reasons for allowing herself continue with Ijebu gari.
“You know that if you’re living with people of another tribe, if you’re eating their kind of food, it makes them feel that you’re one of them; that you don’t discriminate, and that is a godly way of living together as one. As a true Nigerian, you’re supposed to eat all Nigerian foods wherever you find yourself.”
Deaconess Christiana, a civil servant from Akwa Ibom State is a resident of Lagos. She is a passionate promoter and lover of Ijebu gari. She explains why.
“I like Ijebu gari because of its fermentation and I like it especially for sipping and drinking. If it doesn’t ferment well, it’s not original. I used to drink it with cold water and groundnut but I soon noticed that without groundnut I’m flowing with it; afterwards I don’t drink it without anything. I just enjoy it; I also love the aroma which is very interesting. If you have drunk it you will understand what I am saying; it will bite or sting you inside of your cheeks and that I find exciting. I’ve been eating, drinking and relishing Ijebu gari for about five years now.
“I am not saying it is better, but I prefer it. It’s a matter of choice. The yellow gari is starchy and makes one to put on weight.”
Have you seen where they produce Ijebu gari?
“I have not seen; I only wash it clean like any other gari. I know it has a lot of particles because when I soak it all the particles float up and I throw them away and drink or make it with hot water and eat as eba. I found that if you throw the first water away, the fermentation will be less, but also because of the dust that comes with it, soI soak it in water and throw that first water away.”
Madam Titilola Oladokun, a 58 year old is from Ijebu-Igbo in Ogun State has been selling Ijebu gari since her young days. At her shop in Mende, Maryland Titilola said she cannot think of anybody not liking Ijebu gari.
“It is the food to eat whether you are young or old or whether you are fat or thin. If you have problem with weight or you are always having fever your best staple food is Ijebu gari. I have been selling Ijebu gari since my young age before I got married in 1985 and I am still selling it. Anybody who doesn’t like Ijebu gari don’t know what good food is. Elubo and Amala are good foods for people who want to live long because you will not fall sick anyhow if you eat these Ijebu foods.”
An indigene of Gboko in Benue State, Mrs Samuel Takpa Ali said she hears of Ijebu gari but had never had tasted it. She explains why it is so.
“It is very rare in our side; we have lots of yam and pounded yam is our staple food. There is no hotel you enter in Benue that you don’t get pounded yam ready to eat, but gari, especially this one you call Ijebu gari, is not common to come by.”
Still on the subject, Deaconess Christiana who is a mother of three discusses the similarity in both gari even though their finishing and colour are different.
“Even this yellow gari you talk about, there’s a way they fry it in the village; they fry it very dry indeed so that the same aroma I enjoy in Ijebu gari is what I perceive in it too. I remember I used to enjoy it in those days back in the village. One time I visited my in-law’s house in the village immediately after I married; the house was filled with the aroma of that dry gari, I think they just fried it, and I said I must take it some back with me to the city and that was because of the wayit was both fermented and fried; so whether it is yellow or white, I think it is the level of fermentation that gives that aroma. If someone gives me real Delta gari and Ijebu gari, I will prefer Ijebu gari any day.”
While the Deaconess throws away the particles in Ijebu gari before drinking it, Anna Uwechie doesn’t throw away any part of it.
“The joy in Ijebu gari is the many particles that come with it. Even up till now, I don’t remove it. Even If I’m drinking the normal gari, I don’t remove it. If you remove the particles you’ve spoiled it, you would have adulterated the Ijebu in the gari.”
Ijebu gari in domestic science
Thoroughly knowledgeable for someone who reluctantly embraced Ijebu gari so as not to offend her neighbours, Anna gave some insight into the domestic science aspect of the stuff. In this she pointed out that Ijebu gari has grades.
“I know at least three grades but there are more. There is the one that is fair; there’s another that’s a little bit white and there’s another type that is something like ash colour, and I remember there is another that is somehow feinted. Of them all I recommend the one that’s a little bit bright.” This promoter of Ijebu gari also said drinking the gari is not a sign of poverty at all. “It’s a clear choice of taste distinction. It’s just for you to tolerate it and you will begin to enjoy it.”
One man’s meat they say, is another man’s poison but neither of the two kinds of gari is poison. As one of the respondents said, it’s a matter of choice, but if you will watch your weight like Lawyer Kehinde Sofola and you’re not up to 50, or you’re ulcer related in your health condition, perhaps before you make your choice, you could be wise to consult your doctor!