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Water Yam – What a Wonderful Unnoticed Food

Origin and Planting:

Water yam (D. Alata Linn) is one of the oldest food crops so far. It belongs to the family of Monocotyledonous plants. It originated in South-East Asia in Burma. From there it spreads to India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Eastern part of South-East Asia. It served as food for voyagers and was thereby spread to the parts of the tropics. Immigrants from India and Malaysia introduced it to Madagascar from where it was introduced into East Africa in the 16th Century. It was introduced to West African countries by the Portuguese and Spanish.

Today, water yam is the most widely distributed of all the yams, being grown in all parts of the tropics. It is the most extensively cultivated species of ya in the West Indies, the Pacific Islands and tropical Asia. It is known as ‘greater yam’ or ‘ten month’ yam. It can be found in some places in Nigeria. It is called (Ewura) in Yoruba land, it is the main staple food in Ijebu area – Western Nigeria.

Water yam is planted within the months of March – April which is the beginning of the rainy season ans also at the beginning of the dry season (October – November). Late planting yield poorly. It matures in 8 – 10 months and keeps better in storage than other species because they remain dormant for several months. It grows best at temperature between 25oC and 30oC. it requires soil that is well drained, of high fertility and high in organic matter; hence loamy soil is best. It grows in a shorter time than the white yam and possesses a fibrous root system. Most of the roots occur in the top-soil, 30cm, above the soil level.

The tubers vary considerably in shape and size, depending on the soil and how deep the ground is when planting. They may occur singly or in groups, straight or branched. This yam contains a higher proportion of water than either the white or yellow yam. Its loose or watery texture is readily noticeable when the tuber is cut or grated. The tuber may be purple, white, yellow, light brown or almost red in color when peeled. The leaves are distinctively different from others, being heart-shaped, long, broad and winged at the petiode. The stems usually have no spines and they climb round the stakes in a counter-clockwise direction.

Water yam can be eaten boiled, mashed, fried, or mixed with palm-oil or groundnut oil and steamed. Flour can also be made from it. Dishes such as ‘Isikolo’, ‘Ojojo’, Pounded yam, ‘Ikokore’, pottage and fritters can be made from it. It can also be cooked with beans. Dishes such as Queen Cakes, Biscuits and pastries can be prepared from water yam flour.

Nutritional value of water yam:

Moisture = 70%, Starch = 28%, Sugar = 0.5%, Fat = 0.1% – 0.3%, Crude protein = 1.1% – 2.8%, Crude fibre = 0.6 – 1.4%, Ash = 0.7% – 2.1%, Vitamin C (mg per 100g) = 5 – 8%, Vitamin B1 (mg per 100g) = 0.09%, Vitamin B2 (mg per 100g) = 0.03% and Vitamin A.

Five (5) Water Yam Dishes

1. Water yam queen cakes:

a. Ingredients:

(1.) 100gm water yam flour. (2.) 100gm wheat flour. (3.) 175gm margarine. (4.) 174gm sugar. (5.) 1 tablespoon baking powder. (6.) 2 eggs. (7.) 150ml milk.

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b. Method:

(1.) Cream the margarine and sugar until soft, white and creamy. (2.) Add the beaten eggs and continue beating to get in the air. (3.) Sieve water yam and wheat flour and baking powder together. (4.) Add the flour and mix with cold milk to a dropping consistency. Add vanilla essence. (5.) Put in greased patty tins and bake in a moderate oven for 20 minutes.

2. Ojojo (Western African food):

a. Ingredients:

(1.) 100gm grated water yam. (2.) 1 small onion (finely chopped). (3.) Pepper (chopped). (4.) Salt and herbs to taste. (5.) Oil for frying.

b. Method:

(1.) Chop onion and pepper finely. (2.) Beat the grated water yam and add a little water if too thick. (3.) Add the prepared ingredients and salt. Beat together again. (4.) Fry in balls in deep fat. (5.) Drain and serve hot alone or with bread.

3. Ikokore (Nigerian food):

a. Ingredients:

(1.) 100gm water yam.

(2.) 30-50gm boned smoked fish.

(3.) 2 kitchen spoons palm oil.

(4.) Salt to taste.

(5.) Shrimps as desired.

(6) 1 tablespoon ground pepper.

(7.) 1 tablespoon onion.

(8.) 1 tablespoon tomato.

(9.) ½ teaspoon fermented melon seed.

b. Method:

(1.) Peel and grate the water yam.

(2.) Put water in the cooking pot and add prepared fish and ingredients. Allow mixture to boil for a few minutes.

(3.) Add the grated water yam to the gravy in lumps and allow to cook first before stirring.

(4.) Add the oil and salt, stirring gently with a wooden spoon.

(5.) Simmer gently.

(6.) Serve hot either on its own or with cold pap (eko) or agidi.

4. Yam chips:

a. Ingredients:

(1.) 1 small water yam. (2.) Salt to taste. (3.) Fat (oil).

b. Method:

(1.) Wash and peel yam.

(2.) Cut in half lengthwise; and slice thinly on a chopping board.

(3.) Soak in cold water.

(4.) Drain in sieve and wrap in clean cloth for about 15 – 20 minutes separating the slices to prevent them from matting.

(5.) Fry in hot fat; until evenly golden-brown.

(6.) Remove, drain and pile on a hot dish sprinkle with salt and serve.

5. Water yam pottage:

a. Ingredients:

(1.) 1 big water yam.

(2.) 2 tablespoons ground red pepper.

(3.) 3 tablespoons ground onion.

(4.) 1 tablespoon tomato puree.

(5.) Salt to taste.

(6.) 6 tablespoons palm oil or groundnut oil.

(7.) 4 tablespoons ground shrimps.

(8.) Cooked beef or 2 pieces smoked fish.

b. Method:

(1.) Peel the yam and cut into small pieces.

(2.) Rinse and put to boil.

(3.) When it is half cooked, add salt, ground ingredients, oil, meat or fish and simmer till cooked.

N.B.: If soft pottage is required, water can be added and some of the yam can be mashed; if beef or fish is not added; serve with fish or beef stew.

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