Why You Cannot Find Akara (Beans Ball) or Masa (Rice Cake) in Shoprite or Any Supermarket

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Have you ever thought of going into a convenience store or a supermarket to buy akara?

Do not even think about it!

Nigerians will agree with me that it is a stupid thing to do. Well, if you decide to go ahead still, what you will find is “cheese balls” instead of akara (beans ball). You will find sachet wheat-flour cakes instead of sachet beans cakes (moi-moi or opka) or rice/corn cake (masa). You will find Coke drink instead of Zobo (Roselle) drink. You will find Soya drink instead of Kunu (cereal) drink. You will find many packaged foods that are not African, like cookies/biscuits, crackers, loaves of bread, cakes, candies, rolls and pies.

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Short Shelf Life of African Foods

Supermarkets and convenience stores businesses are very concerned about the shelf life of the goods they sell. The shelf life of a good is very important to a seller and a buyer. The shorter the shelf life of a food, the riskier it is to store that food. This is a big change for supermarkets and convenience stores because they buy their goods in very large quantities, store and sell to the final consumer. On the other hand, no consumer will knowingly stock his or her kitchen with food that will definitely get bad few days later.

Most African convenience foods have a very short shelf life so stocking them is a very bad idea. They can get bad just after two days of production. Foods like akara, masa, okpa and moi-moi start to get bad just after a day. This is not so with other cakes of foreign origin. The most comparable cake of foreign origin, which is the wheat flour cupcake, can easily be found on the shelves of supermarkets in Nigeria. They have a shelf life of about 2 weeks.

The short shelf life of akara, masa, okpa and moi-moi can be tied to factors like high moisture content, the presence of oil or fat, the absence of preservatives and poor or bad packaging. Biodegrading organisms are most active in a moist condition, thus can quicken the break down of food into an undesirable or even toxic product.  Fat or oil gets stale or rancid when exposed to light and microorganism that break down fat and oil. In addition, when a product is not properly packed or sealed, the product will certainly get bad faster compared to the same product that is properly sealed. This is because the pack is not airtight so there is an increased or maximum contact with atmospheric moisture and organism that encourages deterioration.

Poor Packaging and Branding

No supermarket or convenience store will display a product that is not well packaged and branded. Good presentation matters a lot in the business of buying and selling. Products have to be appealing and attractive to buyers. African foods have good taste and smell but good taste and smell cannot attract the eyes. In a supermarket or convenience store, aesthetics is important. The most consumed Nigerian drinks are zobo and kunu and they are sold inside used bottles of different water bottling companies. Supermarkets or convenience stores will never stock that kind of product on their shelf.

The Job of Food Scientists

Nigerian food scientists have evidently and obviously not lived up to societal expectation as regards to adding value to Nigerian convenience food and African foods in general.  According to the Institute of Food Technologies (IFT), a food scientist studies the physical, microbiological and chemical make up of food and by applying their findings; they are responsible for developing the safe, nutritious food and innovative packaging that line supermarket shelves everywhere.

Nigerian food scientists should wake up to this responsibility and come up with the best ways to process, preserve and store African foods. They should come up with akara, masa, okpa, moi-moi, zobo drink, and kunu drink and other local convenience foods that are easy and cheap to produce, store and sell without the foods losing their essence.

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8 thoughts on “Why You Cannot Find Akara (Beans Ball) or Masa (Rice Cake) in Shoprite or Any Supermarket

  1. So I feel a need to point out a few errors in your essay.
    The first reason you gave was that our indigenous foods have a short shelf life. A lot of foods have a short shelf life including breads, cakes, jams. This products are preserved using a variety of techniques; canning, chemical preservatives etc. As such, shelf life should not pose a problem.
    Next you talked about bad packaging. This is not a problem of African foods, this is a branding problem attributed to the manufacturers or producers. Also when you say that our indigenous drinks are re-packaged into used bottles; you’re only considering road side sellers who probably find that to be a cheaper, easier way of bottling their goods. I have actually seen zobo sold in the shops in nice bottles, specific to the producer.
    I agree with your last paragraph when you say that food scientists should note these problem areas (as regards preservation) and come up with solutions. I started out saying just as much.

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    1. Thank You for taking your time to comment on this article. You don’t agree with the reasons I mentioned probably because of you definition of food in the context of this article. Food here refers to food that are not raw and references were made, or your are not looking at it from a technical point of view. Shelf life is the length of time a product can stay before biodegrading with or without preservative. We don’t preserve our foods hence they have a short shelf life and that is a problem. This problem can be solved by using the right processing and preservation techniques like you listed. Packaging is my just about aesthetics or branding. It has more to do with taste, aroma, texture and nutrient retention and preservation. You should read about it. Finally roadside sellers also sell lacasera, coke or Vuju but not in used bottles. Zobo should also be sold well branded and packaged even on road sides like other drinks. I should be able to buy zobo just like other drinks in every shop.

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  2. Imagine if you develop this how that would create jobs for our people. Please encourage innovation in this area so that it develops beyond just a concept. It will have continental impact as this is not just applicable to one country.

    Well written and thought provoking article. Imagine African people in the diaspora accessing their home foods.

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  3. Hellooooo….:-)
    You said; “Most African convenience foods have a very short shelf life so stocking them is a very bad idea”.
    It isn’t just African foods. ALL foreign foods throughout the WORLD, have very short shelf lives too. If foreign foods are left unpreserved the same way moinmoin & masa are left unpreserved, they will have very short shelf lives too. Please correct this fact, you make it seem like only African foods can get spoiled.

    For a start, this article doesn’t compare like for like. You cannot compare moinmoin, Akara & masa to cheeseballs. Cheesballs & similar factory processed foods, is a dry, preserved food that was manufactured precisely in order for it to have a long stable life on supermarket shelves through chemical preservation. While foods like moinmoin are wet, unprocessed, unpreserved foods that are prepared to be eaten within a day or two. Foreign foods similar to moinmoin will be spoilt within a day or two also.

    The equivalent of moinmoin, masa & akara will be moistoure or oil containing foods such as the English treacle sponge pudding, the Chinese steamed cakes, etc. Put these foreign foods on the shelves & see if they don’t spoil within days, the same way the African equivalents will.

    You said “The most comparable cake of foreign origin, which is the wheat flour cupcake..”
    This is NOT true. Wheat flour cupcakes are not comparable to moinmoin, masa or akara at all. Moinmoin & co are moisture containing foods, wheat cupcakes are dry baked goods.

    The proper comparison should be wet with wet, dry with dry, preserved with preserved foods etc.
    And the most comparable foreign foods are things like English steamed sponge pudding or Chinese steamed cakes. And for akara & masa, foreign pancakes & dumplings are comparable.

    Because your foreign food comparisons are incorrect, it messes up the whole article.

    However, I understand and agree with the original point you were trying to make with the article, which boils down to the fact that, foreigners have learnt to preserve their foods and we haven’t. Which is why you would find the moisture containing Chinese & English sponge cakes or dumplings on shelves, but will not find moinmoin & akara. These foreign equivalents contain preservatives, while akara & masa does not.

    I too weep over the lack of processing & preservation of any of our foods to make them shelf stable. If we were big in this area of food processing & preservation, we would be able to find much more than convenience foods in supermarkets, we would find even full meals like eba, IYAN & EGUSI, etc on shelves, just like developed Countries have their own full meals factory preserved on supermarket shelves.

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