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African yam bean
African yam bean

Discover the unique history and benefits of African yam bean

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Sphenostylis stenocarpa, also known as African yambean, is a potato-like root crop of vital importance in Africa. The tuber has thick, brown skin and white, crisp, juicy flesh which, when cooked, tastes like potatoes. But, it’s mostly grown in West Africa for its seeds.
While known as belonging to a different genus, the American version, jicama, is closely related to the African yambean and is cultivated for its swollen fleshy roots.

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African yam bean

In Central and Western Africa, African yambeans are not rare. However, no one has seen it outside of tropical Africa, and few have heard of it. Africans familiar with the plant regard it highly.

The problem is, only a handful of the continent’s 600 million inhabitants have heard of it, let alone sampled it. It is predominantly confined to West and Central African pockets, where small farmers cultivate it solely for their use. Thus, several individuals are unaware of the botanical gem in their midst, except within the area that knows it.
Indeed, the African yambean has not taken a baby step towards becoming a global resource; it is heading toward extinction in the opposite direction.

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African yam bean

All yambeans are peculiar because they are legumes, a family of plants renowned for peas, beans, soybeans, peanuts, and other nutritious seeds, but not for roots that are edible. Yet, the swollen underground stems of the yambeans are succulent, white, sweet, slightly flavored, and crisp like freshly picked apples.

Another special thing about African yambean is that it is possible to eat the tubers fresh, saving wood and other cooking fuels. To minimize cooking time, overnight soaking is very useful.

Origin of the African Yambean.

The African yam bean had its origins in Ethiopia. Both wild and cultivated species now occur as far south as Zimbabwe in tropical Africa, from Guinea to southern Nigeria in western Africa, being particularly common in the latter and Togo and the Ivory Coast, and from northern Ethiopia (Eritrea) to Mozambique, including Tanzania and Zanzibar in eastern Africa.

African names:

  • Ghana: Akiteraku, Apetreku.
  • Mali: Diegemtenguere.
  • Congo: Pempo, Mpempo.
  • Igbo: Okpo Dudu, Ijiriji
  • Malawi: Chikhoma, Nkhoma.
  • Hausa: Girigiri.
  • Togo: Sesonge.
  • Ibibio: Nsana.
  • Yoruba: Sese, Sheshe.
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Health benefits of African yam bean
  • Fiber:

    African yambean has high dietary fiber content, which makes it important in the management of chronic diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases. It also helps in the reduction of bad cholesterol.

  • Protein:

    African yambean is rich in protein. It contains 15-29% protein in the seeds and tubers. It also has higher Amino acid content that pigeon pea, cowpea, and Bambara nut. African yam bean contains twice the protein in Irish or sweet potato and ten times more protein than cassava.

  • Potassium:

    African yam bean also contains potassium, which helps lower blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels.

  • Iron:

    African yam bean may improve circulation because it contains iron and copper, both necessary for healthy red blood cells.

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African yam bean. Credit: happynest_farm (ig)
  • Prebiotic:

    African yam bean contains a type of prebiotic fiber that feeds beneficial gut bacteria and decreases unhealthy bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria reduce the risk of developing obesity, heart disease, and diabetes

  • Aids weight loss:

    African yambean is usually prepared for labourers when they are hired to work on farms. They eat the food in the morning and will keep drinking water without getting famished for a very long time. They refer to the crop as “6 to 6” because when you eat yambean by 6 am while working, you will not need to eat again till 6 pm. So, it makes you feel full for longer, which helps with weight loss.

  • May boost Heart health:

    African yam bean contains a significant amount of soluble dietary fiber, which may help lower cholesterol levels by preventing bile from being reabsorbed in the intestines and preventing the liver from making more cholesterol.

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Extremely versatile:

  • In Nigeria, it is roasted and eaten as a snack or cooked as pottage, mixed with oil bean seed and stockfish, and served as a delicacy at festive events.
  • It is also roasted and eaten as a snack with a soft palm kernel.
  • It could be cooked with yam and served as pottage or made into flour and mixed with maize flour to prepare foo-foo.
  • It can be eaten raw too.
  • The seeds may be eaten alone or in soups, and are commonly served with yam, maize, or rice. They are said to be delicious and to be “often preferred over other types of beans.

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