When cooking Nigerian soups in which we use pastes as thickeners, we usually boil the cocoyam corms (for Bitterleaf Soup, Ora (Oha) Soup) or pieces of white puna yam (for Nsala (White) Soup), then pound them into a paste before adding to the pot of soup.
But what if you live in a place where you cannot buy cocoyam corms or tubers of puna yam? You live in a place where you only rely on flour when cooking Nigerian soups. What is the best flour to use as thickener in these soups? And how do we add it to the soups?
The best flour to use as thickener in all soups where we use cocoyam corms (Bitterleaf Soup and Ora Soup) is cocoyam flour. You can buy cocoyam flour in Nigerian markets and in African and South American food shops outside Nigeria. Sometimes, you may be lucky to buy them in Asian shops.
The best flour to use as thickener in soups where puna yam paste is used as thickener is yam flour, of course. Yam flour is abundant in all African food shops all over the world because it is used to prepare “pounded” yam.
Cocoyam adds its own taste to Bitterleaf Soup and Ora Soup the same way that yam adds a unique state to Nsala Soup but if you can’t find cocoyam or yam flour, the closest I have used is Quaker Oats Flour. The next best after that is potato flour. Please note that “the next best” as used here does not mean that your Bitterleaf, Nsala and Ora Soups will have the traditional taste when prepared with potato flour but it is manageable and better than not preparing these soups at all. 😉
Best practices when preparing and using flour as thickener in Nigerian soups:
1. Turn the flour into paste.
If you add the flour directly into the soup in its powder form, the soup will become mushy and depending on how hot the soup is when the flour is added, lumps may form.
2. Do it over a stove.
The process of mixing the flour with water to form a paste should be done over a stove on low heat. This helps make the paste as elastic as possible. Thickeners for Nigerian soups should be soft and a tad sticky. If you simply mix the flour with warm or hot water in a bowl, what you will get is a mass of dough which may not dissolve naturally in the boiling pot of soup.
3. Do prepare only the quantity you will use in one go.
Yes, the first time you make the paste, you may not get the quantity exactly right. The best thing to do is to ensure you mix enough or more than you need then store the excess in the freezer. But you will find that this thickener does not store very well in the freezer, it loses its elasticity so much you will need to mix the frozen one with a new batch for it to regain its elasticity. With time and experience, you will master how to prepare the exact quantity you need for a particular quantity of soup.
4. Add the thickener in lumps.
Just like with all paste thickeners for Nigerian soups, this thickener should be added to the soup in small lumps. This is so the thickener has more surface area which makes it easier for it to dissolve in the soup.
5. Add all the thickener you need at the same time (in lumps).
As with all paste thickeners for Nigerian soups, all the thickener (derived from flour) you need to cook a pot of soup should be added to the boiling pot of soup at the same time. If you add some, cook for some time and add more, the lumps of thickener added later may not dissolve.
In the first video below, I cooked Ora Soup with cocoyam flour. Watch how I turned the cocoyam flour into paste before adding it to the pot of soup. In the second video, I cooked the soup with Quaker Oats. Enjoy!
What is your own best practice when using flour as thickener? Do you know any great alternatives to cocoyam flour and yam flour? Please share with us in the comments below.