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Using Flour as Thickener in Nigerian Soups – Best Practices

Using Flour as Thickener in Nigerian Soups - Best Practices

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.


  1. Am not sure i’ve seen potato flour here before. Flo pls can i use fresh potatoes? I have everything but these cocoyams.

    • Onyin I tried fresh Irish potatoes but I did not like how mushy it made the soup. It did not have as much starch/elasticity as the potato flour.
      I wouldn’t recommend sweet potatoes because the sweetness will ruin the Bitterleaf Soup. It is more suitable for Nsala Soup.
      But everything depends on your taste buds, try them and see but cook a small quantity oooo 😀

  2. Amaka Okoye says

    Hi Flo, how’s it going? Hope you’re enjoying your weekend. Please i have a problem.
    Every sunday i cook ofe akwu for my family. This usually turns out well, especially when i use stock fish and dry fish along with the other ingredients. Today was different, however. I noticed after cooking halfway that the stew wasn’t tasting or smelling great as usual. It was quite tasteless, and at this point i had already added everything except for the dry fish and the leaves. I stated adding more stock cubes and seasoning to make the flavor come out but it didn’t change much. Eventually I just added the remaining ingredients and added salt and turned it off. The flavor came out a little by now. But just a little.
    Now the main issue arose when my daddy came to eat his own. He noticed it was tasting spoilt, like old stew that was badly preserved. I tasted it and noticed same. And it was getting worse byt the minute.
    My question is, does this happen? What could be the cause? Could it have been the akwu itself that was bad? Cuz I didn’t do anything differently. I’m so confused and annoyedat the wasted ingredients and yes embarrassed cuz i even had to serve it to dad’s guests like that.
    Please do you have any idea what could have caused my stew to spoil? The damage is already done but i would appreciate any insight you might have into this matter.
    Thank you!

    • Awww Amaka! It’s so sad to read that. 🙁
      I doubt if it is because the palm fruits are not fresh. That one will make the stew have another kind of bad taste but not the “igba uka” taste and smell. And if the palm fruits were that bad, you would have noticed from the smell when cooking them before extraction.

      The only things I can think of right now are:
      1) After extracting the palm fruit concentrate from the akwu, did you by any chance leave it in a container for some time before cooking the stew?
      During the extraction process, the liquid is touched a lot and this is known to cause Ofe Akwu to go bad (igba uka). Do you think this is what you did differently today?

      Usually, after extraction, even if you don’t want to cook the stew immediately, you should cook the concentrate till it boils well before setting it aside.

      2) Also onions, though it makes Ofe Akwu taste so good, causes it to gbaa uka easily especially if the onions is still raw. Did you add some onions last minute?

      If the above conditions were present, the steam (now turned liquid) on the cover of the pot will make the stew worse if it pours back into the stew especially after the stew has cooled down a bit. This may explain why the stew gets worse by the minute. If the condensed steam poured back into the pot maybe when someone opened the pot, it will get worse.

      I know the feeling. And it chose today of all days that you had visitors to happen. Ndo nne, don’t beat yourself up too much, OK? Ofe Akwu, like Egusi soup, goes bad very easily.

      I hope this helps you pinpoint what happened there, if not please send me more info so that I can look into this some more. 🙂

      And yes! My weekend has been good, thanks!

  3. Amaka Okoye says

    Thank you Flo. I did cook the akwu last night cuz i intended to extract the juice and parboil it but i was so tired I just ended up leaving it on the gas after it cooked, dunno if that cud have contributed. Anyway thanks much for the tips I’ll be sure to be extra careful from now on. Keep up the great work!

  4. Flo… I don’t know how to cook but I’ll try from henceforth. Nice instructions.

  5. This is helpful for me, thanks.

  6. Eka Okpo-Ene says

    Please can l have the recipe for Fishetman Soup?

  7. Nwogbo Aijay says

    Thanks Flo for those tips on ofe akwu cuz I want to give my family an ofe akwu treat to celebrate my baby’s birthday (I mean my Hubby’s birthday.
    Keep up the gud work by helping us become better cooks and our husbands and family enjoying delicious meals. Thanks a lot.

  8. Bukola omoshowon says

    I love this your site, and am leaning a lot. Me I cooking igbo soups cos I love to eat them.

  9. diaryofdido says

    Hi Flo!
    Please how do I contact you? Can I have your email address?
    Thank you.


  10. i have found akamu and cornflour to be very effctive also in nsala soup.

  11. Cornflour is another good soup thickner. I use it to prepare vegetable sauce or white sauce as sm pple may call it,and it comes out very good I have also used it on nsala soup and it ws nice.

    • Nice one Flo, u re really doing a great job. @Ella, u re right, I also used cornflour as thickner for my banga soup and it turned out lovely.

  12. I love what you are doing on here. you are always of great help to a young bachelor looking to improve his culinary skills. Thank you for the smiles gotten from good ad well prepared meals.

  13. I use the palm oil meant for the soup to dissolve my thickeners and works perfectly without lumps.

  14. Can I use palm oil to dissolve the cocoyam flour? Pls reply ASAP thnks!

    • I have not done that before but I think it might work as long as the mix it still thick (like the one I have in the video) when you are done.

  15. Good day, Thanks for your great work. I would like to know if corn starch is the same as pap.

    • Esele, yes both corn starch and pap are made from corn. But when it comes to the practical details of cooking, the answer to your question can be yes or no depending on what you want to use these two ingredients for.

      If you want to prepare pap (akamu, ogi) for breakfast then the answer is yes. You can dissolve the very fine corn starch in cool water like custard and make it with hot water and serve with pancakes, akara etc. The only difference is that with corn starch, you will not get the sour taste of akamu but it will be thick like akamu.

      If you are looking for a thickener for soups and/or sauces, you can use corn starch but you can’t use pap for the same purpose. When you want to thicken soups or sauces, it is best to use corn starch which does not have a sour taste. If you use pap to thicken soups, that soup will acquire the sour taste of pap and will ruin the meal.

  16. Chidiogo Okoye says

    Hey, Flo
    You are doing such a great job here.
    There won’t be excuses from our youngstars anymore on ‘mummy didn’t teach me to cook native foods’.
    And more, you are giving us the match with the ‘white chef’…he too should download our videos… 😀

    • Chidiogo nne, no excuses at all. Thanks to the internet and the information we are able to share on it!
      Chai, which white chef? The Jollof white chef? #runsaway 😀

  17. Beecroft Olabisi says

    Hello Flo,
    You are doing a great work.I love this site o.
    I will like to know if I can use yam flour to thicken my banga soup pls?

    • Beecroft, Banga Soup does not need a thickener because the banga juice is already a thickener on its own.

      If you extracted the banga juice from the palm fruits yourself, boil the extract on high heat till it dries up to the consistency you like for your soups before adding the cooked meats and other ingredients like I did in this video >> https://youtu.be/FWF4R_5BzyQ

      If you will be using the tinned palm fruit concentrate (which is already very thick), cook your meat and fish with as little water as possible then add the concentrate. If you have very little water in the pot by the time you add it, you may even need to add more water to bring it to the right consistency.

      Hope these help. Glad you are having fun here. 😉

  18. i luv ibo soups my favorite being bitter-leaf soup. i made it for the first time last week and added the coco yam flour paste too late and it didn’t dissolve thanks for sharing the correct recipe. will use your method when next i prepare it.

  19. I love this info am getting its helps to cook even what I have never eaten before.I just learnt how to cook bitter leaf and white soup TNX to de writer

  20. Pls my dear flo, apart from rice, oha and bitterleaf soup which other food can i use akwu to cook?

    • Ada you’ve named them all. I would add that you can use it to prepare rice in two ways: the boiled white rice and Ofe Akwu then there’s one known as Banga Rice where you cook the rice like Jollof Rice using the akwu. Then you have the Delta Banga Soup that is used to eat starch (delta swallow). Banga Soup is almost the same as Ofe Akwu but for banga soup, you add dried and crushed bitter leaves and some other traditional spices.

  21. Can I use the baking flour as a thickener? Just curious.

  22. Can i use corn flour as thickener for nsala soup and bitter leaf soup

  23. Great info, learnt a lot. Can wheat flour be used for oha and bitter leaf soup?

    • Bridget I do not recommend using wheat flour to prepare these two soups. I have tried it before and I did not like the look, feel and taste of the soups. But if you do not have the flours I mentioned in the post, you can use plain flour or all purpose flour, the one used in baking.