Brooke Carroll and Faculty Mentor: Frost Steele, NDFS
The purpose of this study was to address several nutritional deficiencies in a typical Malawian diet through an ancient Mesoamerican process known as nixtamalization. Calcium and niacin, both crucial micronutrients, are both increased through this maize treatment process. It requires an alkaline solution, which we created from wood ash, to process maize and incorporate these nutrients into a new product. Since the taste, texture, flavor, and appearance of the maize changes with nixtamalization, a panel of native Malawians were invited to taste several variants of the nixtamal product in contrast to one made with traditional maize and relay their opinions of them. The nixtamalization process commonly entails a 1:4 ratio of whole kernel maize to water, with an addition of calcium hydroxide or ash to produce an alkaline solution. The ash or lime source is brought to a boil with the water before the corn is added, at or around boiling temperature, or 92-100 degrees Celsius. The mixture is held at a boil for 30-90 minutes. To allow for maximum calcium percolation of the corn, the mixture is steeped in solution for 8-24 hours; 12 hours has been shown to provide maximum integrity of the corn. At this point, the corn is ready to be rinsed twice with cold water and dried thoroughly before being milled into flour, ready for consumption.
This study began at a non-governmental organization located in a rural area just north of the capital city of Malawi, Lilongwe. The School of Agriculture for Family Independence (SAFI) is an organization that teaches selected farming families nutrition, agricultural techniques, and other life skills that will help them improve their standard of living and lead to greater self-reliance. It is sponsored by the NuSkin International Force for Good Foundation and Children’s Brighter Future. SAFI houses a two-year program where a year is spent on-campus learning techniques and a year is spent at home implementing them under supervision from SAFI instructors. These farming families come from all over the country.
There were varying reactions to the product, with the most favorable version being a mixture of the nixtamal and traditional maize in a porridge format. Results from this study show an important pattern: it is unfavorable to change an existing food tradition, but Malawians are open to incorporating new products into their diet. Nsima has such cultural and traditional significance for Malawians that it wouldn’t be helpful to attempt to change it. Many of these farmers have eaten nsima every day of their lives and have a particular idea of how they would like it to be prepared and how it should taste. This was demonstrated by a significant dislike of nixtamal nsima, particularly in texture and taste. The way that the nixtamal was prepared allowed for the pericarp to remain in the product, which added fiber and calcium but also created a different texture. The fact that the flour mixture product was intermediate between the two groups suggested that the more the product tasted like traditional nsima, the more they liked it. It is clear from this subject group that pursuing nsima as the vehicle for nixtamal maize would not be widely adopted. The porridge trial was much more favorable with regards to nixtamal. The mixture of nixtamal and traditional maize porridge was most favored, followed by the full nixtamal, and then the control of regular nsima. Since the porridge uses the same recipe, only with a higher water content, this trial shows that the taste, texture, and sensory qualities of nixtamal are not disliked. By combining the nixtamal with traditional flour, important B vitamins that are destroyed in nixtamal are reincorporated into the recipe, providing for a more nutritionally balanced dish. This demonstrates those in the sample population are not opposed to the nixtamal flavor and texture in general, only when it pertains to nsima.
The nutrition staff and interns from Brigham Young University have begun preparations for establishing a curriculum of nixtamalization at SAFI that can be taught to interested students. Several students in different years expressed an interest in learning the nixtamal process. The procedure doesn’t utilize any resources other than discarded ash and traditional homemade clay pots, so it would not require additional costs. However, it does require a significant amount of time to learn the procedure and treat the maize. It would replace the current method of treating maize, which also very time intensive and includes multiple steps of cracking, drying, and grinding the flour. We do not expect immediate or widespread adaptation to this new method based on the change and effort it would require. It may be a more useful investment for those preparing food for larger groups, such as for children at primary schools. Nixtamal could also be prepared for food products that may be sold for a profit.
Results from this study show potential for nixtamalization in maize processing in Malawi. As long as it is introduced as a new food product, not as replacing a traditional staple, favorable possibilities exist. These participants showed that in this study nixtamal is preferred in porridge format to regular maize. Consuming nixtamal regularly in the Malawian diet would increase calcium and niacin and reduce the risk of illness from mycotoxins in maize. This reduces the risk of deficiency from osteomalacia, rickets, and pellagra, as well as other diseases. There is room for improving the Malawian diet through foods and ingredients that already exist in their fields and gardens. An important obstacle to implementation will be the time and energy required to learn and maintain a new method of processing maize, so an implementation may be more effective for large-scale food production such as at primary or early childhood schools.
The main goal or outcome of this project was to develop a curriculum that can implemented at SAFI to teach the students ways in which they can increase their nutrient intake in an affordable and sustainable way. This was accomplished through working with Ester Msefula, the head of nutrition at SAFI. We developed a hands-on approach to try and encourage in class participation. The class will be taught in the classroom as well las in a practical session where the students will have the opportunity to practice the technique during class time. The curriculum was implemented starting September, 2017 and success will be evaluated after the first year.