Okpehe is a traditional Nigerian seasoning made from fermented seeds of Prosopis africana. It is obtained from a single species, Anonychium africanum, a tree native to northern Sub-saharan Africa. It is also known as African mesquite, iron tree, gele (in Malinke), okpehe, and somb tree.
The Idoma and Igala people of Nigeria refer to both the tree and its fermented seeds as Okpehe. The derivatives such as okpeye and okpiye originate from the noun okpehe used by these people.
The seeds are nutrient-dense and provide various essential nutrients. Additionally, it has a solid and distinctive aroma that adds flavor to various dishes.
However, it’s important to note that the fermentation process can also influence the nutrient content of the final product. Below are the significant health benefits of Okpehe.
Nutritional Composition of Okpehe Seeds
The nutritional composition of okpehe seeds undergoes significant changes during the fermentation process. Studies have demonstrated that fermentation leads to a notable increase in moisture, ash, and protein content.
Furthermore, the mineral content, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, and zinc, also shows significant increases with extended fermentation periods. Interestingly, the fermentation process results in a reduction of anti-nutrient and vitamin content in the okpehe samples.
In another study, the total amino acids steadily increased throughout the fermentation period for all samples. Importantly, the amino acid analysis indicated the presence of essential amino acids in significant amounts.
9 Health Benefits of Okpehe
Here are nine health benefits of Okpehe that will fascinate you:
1. Rich in essential nutrients
Okpehe is made from oilseeds and is rich in nutrients like proteins, healthy fats, vitamins (such as vitamin E), and minerals (such as iron and zinc). These nutrients are essential in various bodily functions, including immune system support and energy production.
2. Probiotic potential
Fermentation, a process used to produce Okpehe, can introduce beneficial bacteria and microorganisms into the food. These microorganisms could potentially have probiotic properties, contributing to gut health by promoting a balanced gut microbiome. A lot of fermented foods in Nigeria, like okpehe are rich in probiotics.
3. Antioxidant properties
Some ingredients used to make Okpehe, like sesame seeds, contain antioxidants such as sesamin and sesamol. Antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.
The study conducted at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, investigated the impact of fermentation duration on the chemical and antioxidant properties of okpehe seeds derived from Prosopis africana.
The study found that the fermentation process resulted in an increase in antioxidants and minerals.
4. Good source of protein
One of the significant health benefits of Okephe is that it is a good protein source. Oilseeds, sesame, and fluted pumpkin seeds used to make Okpehe are good plant-based protein sources.
Studies have shown that okpehe seeds are high in protein, and would serve as important nutritional food in Africa.
Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues and supporting immune and other bodily functions.
5. Contains healthy fats
Okpehe, made from oilseeds, is a good source of healthy fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are essential for heart health, brain function, and overall energy.
6. Good source of minerals
Okpehe is rich in minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. These minerals are vital for bone health, energy production, and various enzymatic reactions in the body.
7. Rich in fiber
The fermentation process may enhance the fiber content of Okpehe. Dietary fiber is essential for digestive health, promoting regular bowel movements and supporting a feeling of fullness. Also, it can help with healthy weight management.
8. Contains phytochemicals
Okpehe, made from Sesame seeds, is a good source of helpful Phytochemicals. Sesame is rich in beneficial phytochemicals like lignans and phytosterols, which have antioxidant and potential anti-inflammatory properties.
9. Flavor enhancement
While not a direct health benefit of Okpehe, Okpehe is used as a seasoning to enhance the flavor of dishes. Adding flavor to meals can encourage the consumption of nutrient-rich foods and make them more enjoyable.
Keep in mind that the specific nutritional profile of Okpehe can vary based on the types and proportions of ingredients used, the fermentation process, and any additional additives.
It is advised to make your Okpehe as natural as possible and avoid adding additives during the making process to improve its taste and texture. The more natural your Okpehe is, the more health benefits you stand to enjoy.
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