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Ugali - What is it?

Updated on June 28, 2012

Ugali, a main part of East African Cuisine

Ugali is one of two main dishes in many Eastern African countries. Ugali is a staple starch made from Maize (corn) as the main ingredient. It is a very thick dish, not too different from a porridge. It is eaten by many people every day in that part of the world and some call it a cornmeal porridge, or corn meal mush.

Evidently, its is easy to burn, so it takes a little practice to boil, yet not burn it. Usually people eat Ugali with meat or stews. This food is known to help stretch meals to make them last longer throughout a given week. Unfortunately, it isn't the most nutritional dish, but you can change that by using ingredients that are higher in nutrition, like a wheat flour. The dishes that it can be served with, if higher in nutrition can help to balance that out as well.

There are many cultures that also use this dish, and it goes by different names depending on where you are cooking it. Sure its not totally the same, but something rather similar. Its great for people of lower income, as they can not spend a lot, but still have some food that will feed them and their families.

In Kenya in particular, the cooking is influenced by both Indian and Arab cuisine to some degree. Ugali is a big part of that.

Making Ugali in Kenya

Maize or corn, is the chief ingredient in Ugali
Maize or corn, is the chief ingredient in Ugali

How is Ugali used in East African Cuisine?

There are a few ways to eat Ugali. Traditionally, some will roll it up into lump, or a ball and then cover it with a sauce or a stew. Some will dip it into a sauce, gravy or stew that has either vegetables, meat or both. This is most common in rural areas on the Eastern parts of Africa. Some will make a depression into a scoop of ugali, to hold a stew or sauce.

Ugali is made to be eaten with the hands, and if it can be worked just right, can be used like some breads are in other cultures, to wrap around meats. I was trying to picture how this would work, but they seem to be able to do it, I imagine it would just take some getting used to.

Another example of using ugali to complete a meal would be ugali with cabbage, or something similar called ugali and sukuma. Often, you will find ugali served with kale or spinach. This would raise up the nutritional value considerably.

East Africa
East Africa
Kale, one of the great additions to Ugali, and raises the nutritional value.
Kale, one of the great additions to Ugali, and raises the nutritional value.

Ways to increase the nutrional value of Ugali

There are some ways to make ugali more healthful for the people that eat it, such as using a more whole wheat based starch, or adding spinach and kale, and proteins in the form of meats. There have been some studies done on adding a little bit of soy (possibly "supplements") to ugali. It was determined that increasing the soy content, there was increased protein, and an increase in lysine. Other minerals were increased as well, and there seemed to be no loss of taste of the ugali. In general, they raised up the soy flours from ten to thirty percent. I just thought this was so interesting, as it could really impact the lives of many people.

The maize or corn meal comes in three ways. 1. Whole maize meal, then 2. Partially de-germed maize meal, and 3. Fully de-germed maize meal, or a meal that has been sifted quite a bit. The thing is, the fully de-germed meal is appealing, even though a little bit less healthy, because it is easier to digest. So that is very appealing to many. However, the best nutrition comes when more of the germ is left, as in the whole maize meal.

One way to eat Ugali

Ugali Poll

Have you ever tried Ugali?

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