Freddy Hirsch West Africa, an African producer and distributor of extracts for spices, ingredients and flavours has urged African food producers to articulate the continent’s cuisine story by amplifying the continent’s culinary flavors to a global audience.
Speaking during an interaction with the media in Accra, the Managing Director of Freddy Hirsch Nigeria and West Africa, Mr Kojo Brifo, said that contrary to popular perception that there was no African cuisine, most African countries have preferred methods of making food.
Challenging the myth, he said “there has always been African cuisine. The difference between African cuisine and the more popular Chinese, Indian and other cuisine is a result of marketing and ownership.
"Reflect on this; Africa has about 1.3 billion people, with the largest landmass on earth. The world population is about 7.8 billion people. Africa is about 17 per cent of the total world population.
"Yet, we say that this 17 per cent have no cuisine, meaning they have no food or preferred style of making food. Yet, Europe, with its 10 per cent has multiple cuisines; Latin America and the Caribbean’s eight per cent have multiple cuisines and even Northern America with five per cent world population have multiple cuisines, but Africa, the largest population in the world after Asia does not have one global cuisine?”
According to him, three interrelated factors continue to cripple the globalisation of African cuisine: marketing, ownership and innovation.
Articulating the narrative
He stressed that Africans were not properly articulating the narrative of the continent’s dynamic, flavorful, and healthy options, which are rich in dietary fiber (major sources of dietary fiber include fruits, vegetables, maize, millet, cocoyam, beans, etc), and low in added sugar, fat, and sodium.
He also stated that due to an inheritance of colonial cuisine, many Africans do not embrace, and thus own African cuisine, and are unwilling to share its flavorful combinations; in fact, it is non-Africans who amplify African cuisine, not Africans.
He opined on the importance of innovation in food processing, and urged for more authentic and traditional flavors in the snack market, with possible indigenous flavors, such as suya, spicy birdseye chilli, groundnut flavors, among others, in snack products.
Challenges of food security
While sharing thoughts on the challenges of food security, flavours and ingredients industry, Mr Brifo said, the traditional cooking methods were being transformed into commercial products while still keeping the authenticity of the food.
“Unfortunately, the challenge to food security in West Africa is our collective inadequacy to further process our raw material to value-added products that can be used in food formulations.
"Raw materials like tomato, onion, ginger, and garlic are available in Africa but have to be processed into bespoke flavors and innovative ingredients outside the continent. Thus, our high reliance on food imports, erratic food supply, and supply shocks due to crises across West Africa reveal the vulnerability of the region to food insecurity.
“There are several gaps to tackle; last-mile, supply side, distribution, marketplace, logistics, and others. There is also the lack of infrastructure, limited rural development, credit, and land for farming.
"A key challenge across the entire food chain is the lack of resources to modernize our current agricultural production process. We need to adopt technology and mechanisation more, as, without technology, we would not be able to increase productivity. Our value chains need to be integrated,” he said.
Commenting on the distinct opportunities for the industry in West Africa, the MD said that the large variety of food raw materials that deliver unique flavor and ingredient characteristics was a huge opportunity for Africa.
“Over the past years, we have seen West African consumers having a preference for local ethnic and authentic flavors. Our role as a food ingredient and flavor company is to leverage this insight and our abilities to create food solutions that deliver authentic flavors.
"For instance, we have local flavor enhancers that provide flavor intensity in our local dishes. For the fermented Umami tastes that add distinct flavors to savory dishes, we have flavors like locust beans, called dawadawa here in Ghana, iru in Nigeria, and soumbala in Cote D’Ivoire. We also have unique prekese and momoni flavors that give a distinct taste to Ghanaian and African food.
"We can maximise value by transforming these raw materials into a commercial value that can be consumed locally and even exported. We need to begin to transform raw materials into functional products that add value both locally and internationally.”
Mr Brifo said that West Africa could improve the production and manufacturing of authentic, hyperlocal African flavors and ingredients through the adoption of technology and technical know-how.
“Human capital development is key. We are limited by technical know-how in food processing and food preservation in West Africa. As an undergraduate at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in 1999, there was no discipline/programme for Food Science.
"With human capital development, especially in our tertiary institutions, we will be able to speed the transformation of food manufacturing. We need to explore advanced food processing machinery with high speed and precision" he said.
Mr Brifo also shared the company’s vision for innovating authentic African flavours and tastes and explained the company’s investments to serve the West African market.
“We have invested in a Research, Development, and Application laboratory and a manufacturing facility with world-class quality management systems, in Nigeria, where our experts develop flavors for various application areas, especially savory foods, sweet applications, and beverages tailored to the African market.
"These facilities allow us to tap into the pulse and gain valuable insights from our customers, meet the unique taste preferences of the regional market and develop competitive solutions in culinary, bakery, confectionery, and dairy.
"With these competencies, we can offer cost and forex savings with best in class in-country food ingredients and flavors to reduce capital flight, drive job growth and improve the lives of our teeming youth population.
"We have also partnered with Germany-based fragrances and flavorings manufacturer, Symrise AG to boost food innovation and nutrition in culinary markets in West Africa. With this partnership, we are better positioned to focus on the development, launch, and commercialisation of transformational food products, specifically in the savory market: general seasoning, bouillon meat, snacks, and instant noodles.”
He further called on the governments across West Africa to partner with food firms to create food innovation hubs across regions, stressing that one of the major economic implications of COVID-19 is the weakened levels of food security in many countries.