Soaking gari is a very nice way of making instant cereal which most Ghanaians do today. Some also held the view that “soaking gari used to blind eyes.” Interestingly, soaking gari can be nutritious as it is an authentic source of energy and there are no scientific studies that have found that gari soaking can blind anyone. Others also opined that “drinking gari is a sign of poverty. The debate about whether drinking gari is a Sign of poverty or not has been going on for a long. You will have a different opinion on this subject after reading this article. Gari is also known as Cassava Flakes, Cassava Dust, Gali, Gari, etc. Why the motivation to write on gari in this new article?
Recently I wrote on the health benefits of Konkonte made from cassava. The article was based on one study conducted by a team of scientists at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology found that foods processed through solar and sun drying possess a lower glycaemic index, which is healthy for consumption.The study revealed that consuming traditional staples like ‘Konkonte’ processed through solar or sun drying, could reduce your blood sugar levels and lower the risk of heart diseases. In one email I received, the sender advised providing the review on cassava gari. The sender believes that since konkonte and gari are both derived from the same cassava, could gari also have a health impact?
In this article, I provide a review on cassava gari and other foods derived from the same plant such asagblikakaro etc.
Garri, otherwise known as Cassava Flakes, is one of the main sources of carbohydrates and a popular staple food in Ghana. It is a local delicacy eaten across Ghana, usually mixed with sugar, milk, etc, and eaten however you desire.
But this go-to-meal is one whose health benefits are unknown or not paid attention to by its consumers. Though gari is a starchy food, it is low in calories and with high fiber contents that will help you stay full for a longer period.
Gari, The Science
Low In Calories, Fat, and Sugar
To understand the health benefits of Gari and other cassava foods such as Agblikaklo and others, it is advisable to understand the nature of cassava as the base ingredient. Some are confused due to the fact cassava is a starchy food. What they forget to understand is that starch in cassava is high in resistant starch, a type of starch that bypasses digestion and has properties similar to those of soluble fiber. For more on this read wide on resistant starch or my previous articles on cassava fufu and Konkonte. Thus eating foods that are high in resistant starch may benefit your health in several ways.
Cassava has less than 120 calories for a quarter-cup serving, making it lower in calories than some other gluten-free flour, such as almond or coconut flour. Overall, it has higher water content, lower fat content, and lower calorie density than other flours, including corn, wheat, plantain, almond, coconut, rice, and sorghum flour.
Garimakes a good choice for people with health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol since it’s extremely low in salt/sodium, sugar, and fat, plus free from refined carbohydrates and synthetic ingredients. Depending on what other ingredients you use cassava with, it can help you maintain normal blood sugar and provide a good source of energy.
Levy, J(2019) notes that though itis high in carbs and provides a similar amount of carbohydrates as most other grain-based flours, which can help support energy levels in people who are active but avoid eating other starches. Because it’s so high in carbohydrates, experts estimate that cassava plants provide the third-highest yield of carbohydrates per person in many parts of the world (after sugarcane and sugar beets).
Its composition is about 60 percent to 65 percent water moisture, 20 percent to 31 percent carbohydrates, and less than 2 percent protein and fat. In some parts of Africa, it provides up to 30 percent of total daily calories!
Fora good cassava soaking, it is best to use cassava gari to pair it with other nutrient-dense, complementary foods to boost the fiber, vitamin,and mineral content of recipes. For example, you can increase the amount of fiber in recipes by using cassava gari in combination with high-fiber foods like chia seeds or flaxseeds.
Easy to Grow
In one article by Levy, J(2019) Cassava has been found to assimilate carbon at very high rates under high levels of humidity, withstand high temperatures and solar radiation, and survive in environments whether dry or humid. According to one publication by The ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), 2000, “when we advocate and buy cassava garri and other cassava products we help support growers who rely on exporting cassava to earn an income, provide employment opportunities and serve as a reserve food in times of scarcity”.
A quarter-cup serving of cassava flour has about:
- 114 calories
- 2 grams of fiber
- less than 1 gram of fat, protein, or sugar
- 28 grams of carbohydrates
- about 17 percent of daily vitamin C
the nutritiondata.self.com states that one cup of raw cassava contains the following which you will also benefits from eating gari:
- 330 calories
- 78.4 grams carbohydrates
- 2.8 grams protein
- 0.6 gram fat
- 3.7 grams fiber
- 42.4 milligrams vitamin C (71 percent DV)
- 0.8 milligram manganese (40 percent DV)
- 558 milligrams potassium (16 percent DV)
- 55.6 micrograms folate (14 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram thiamine (12 percent DV)
- 43.3 milligrams magnesium (11 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram copper (10 percent DV)
- 1.8 milligrams niacin (9 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram vitamin B6 (9 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram riboflavin (6 percent DV)
- 55.6 milligrams phosphorus (6 percent DV)
- 3.9 micrograms vitamin K (5 percent DV)
- 0.7 milligram zinc (5 percent DV)
Although it’s not very high in fiber, protein, healthy fats or other essential nutrients (aside from vitamin C), cassava is low in calories and allows you to enjoy some of your favorite recipes without the use of processed, bleached, or gluten-containing flours.
Cassava gari, loaded with vitamin C
Cassava gari is loaded with vitamin C — a significant antioxidant that prevents cancer, eye health, and skin health. Though some controversy exists on how much vitamin C is retained during cassava’s manufacturing process. This notwithstanding, one study by Montagnac et al.(2009) found that cassava is loaded in vitamin C juxtaposed toother staple crops (and grains) andcontains more vitamin C than potatoes, yams, and wheat brown rice, corn, and plantains.
Cassava gari, aids digestion, and colon health
Two studies (Korczak et al. 2017; Rachman et al. 2020) found that cassava gari, are rich in dietary fiber. Dietary fiber aids digestion, fecal frequency, and weight. It also reduces the colonic transit time of digested food.
Cassava gari is a resistant starch . As the resistant starch in cassava gari ferments inside the colon, it feeds the healthy bacteria there. During this process, the starches turn into short-chain fatty acids.One of these short-chain fatty acids is butyrate. Butyrate is an important component in the cells of the colon. Magallanes-Cruz et al.(2017) explained that resistant starchis starched that the small intestine does not digest. Nugent, A(2005) explained that resistant starchwork in a similar mannerto dietary fiber. They pass from the small intestines into the colon where they begin to ferment and finally promote gut health by feeding the beneficial gut bacteria as they ferment(Maier et al.2017).
Zimmerman et al.(2012) found that Butyrate can also reduce the levels of inflammation inside the colon. This can help protect a person against a variety of digestive issues, such as inflammatory colorectal cancer and ulcerative colitis.This means that, in theory, butyrate could also help protect a person from other inflammatory issues in the bowel and colon, including:
Cassava gari, loaded with antioxidants
Three studies (Chukwu, 2015; Nilusha et al. 2021; Senand Chakraborty, 2011) found that cassava gari is loaded with an antioxidant such as phenolics, carotenoids, and vitamin c. These antioxidants in cassava help fight skin conditions and organ functions.
One animal study by Maki et al.(2012) found that resistant starch can increase a person’s insulin sensitivity. In this study males who were overweight or had obesity ate 15–30 grams (g) of resistant starch each day. These males then showed increased insulin sensitivity in comparison to males who did not eat these resistant starches. By increasing a person’s insulin sensitivity, resistant starches can play a role in preventing disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. During the study, female participants did not show the same results. More research is necessary to determine why.
Other foods derived from cassava
Let me state that, all cassava-derived foods contain the ingredients in cassava with accompanying benefits if one reviews the science on cassava. Though different processing methods could affect them. Some of the foods are adumbrated according to Wikipedia(2022):
Eba is a stiff dough made by soaking garri in hot water and kneading it with a wooden baton until it becomes a smooth doughy staple. It is served as part of a meal with various soups and sauces. Some of these include okra soup, egusi soup, vegetable soup, afang soup, banga soup, and bitter leaf soup.
Kokoro is common Nigerian snack food, especially in southern and southeast Nigeria, especially in Abia state, Rivers state, Anambra state, Enugu state and Imo state. It is made from a paste of maize flour, mixed with garri and sugar, and deep-fried.
Garri comes in various consistencies, which can roughly be categorized into rough, medium, and smooth. Each type is used for a particular food.
As a snack, cereal, or light meal, garri can be soaked in cold water (in which case it settles to the bottom), mixed with sugar or honey, and sometimes roasted peanuts or groundnut with evaporated milk are sometimes added. Garri can also be eaten dry without water, but with sugar and roasted peanut added.
In its dry form, garri is used as an accompaniment for soft cooked beans and palm oil. This food mix is called yoo ke garri or Foto garri in the Ga language, in Ghana. Foto garri is the combination of moistened garri and stew, while yoo ke garri is garri with beans, a combination that is typically eaten as lunch.It is also eaten with bean cake in Nigeria.
For a full meal, garri is usually cooked by adding it to hot water, then kneading it into the dough. This is eaten with different types of thick, leafy vegetable stews, melon seed stews, peanut stews, or beans.
Smooth garri (known as lebu to the Yoruba) can be mixed with pepper and other spicy ingredients. A small amount of warm water and palm oil is added and mixed with the hand to soften up. This type of garri is served with fried fish. It is served with frejon on Good Friday.
Two studies(Nwabueze and Odunsi, 2007; Alitubeera et al. 2019) reported that raw cassava contains the cyanogenic glycosides linamarin and lotaustralin. The researchers explained that Linamarin produces the toxic compound (hydrogen cyanide, HCN). It can cause dizziness, vomiting, tachypnea (abnormally rapid breathing), syncope (fainting), and tachycardia (fast heart rate).
However, Alitubeera et al. (2019) assured us that we should not be afraid of the hazardous nature of cassava. This is because cultivated cassava has a much lower cyanogenic content than wild cultivars. Moreover, peeling the tubers, soaking them in water for 4 to 6 days, and sun-drying or roasting them reduces the levels of these compounds to acceptable amounts.
One study by Santos et al.(2011) reported some allergic reactions when some consume cassava such as urticaria (hives) and angioedema (painless swelling under the skin). Others reported life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.
Cassava gari and other cassava-derived foods support our health in many diverse ways due to the numerous ingredients in cassava. Cassava gari is gluten-free and rich in carbohydrates. Dietary fibers, vitamin C, vitamin B, and vitamin A are abundant in cassava gari. While the presence of cyanogenic glycosides in cassava gari may pose a risk, proper processing significantly reduces these levels. Always do remember that the starch content in cassava products is a resistant starch and they are beneficial to our health especially gut health. From the review on scientific studies, is drinking gari soaking food for the poor? Lets the debate state!
The writer is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare, President, Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine & Technology (NUCHMT)/African Naturopathic Foundation.