An Olonka of Gari

An olonka is…well…I think we’ve settled on 2.6 kg…but some say 1 kg…it varies village to village…either way…an extremely precise measurement! But that’s not really important. At an average of 35 olonkas per day, small holders (generally women) process a lot of gari!

While I’ve touched on this in a previous post, gari can be likened to a granular flour and is used as a staple throughout much of Ghana. It is made from cassava tubers, which are peeled and milled prior to fermentation. Fermentation is a crucial step in the production of gari because it reduces the cyanide content of the tuber to human-friendly levels. The resulting pulp is pressed to drain excess moisture. Finally, the cassava dough is sieved and then fried.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of taking part in the final two steps – sieving and frying – as part of of a controlled cooking test. Sieving is pretty straightforward, but rather time consuming. Typically one moves the dough back and forth over a woven sieve (who would’ve thought?! One sieves with a sieve?) to get the proper grain size necessary for frying. Your hands also get really, really soft in the process. Must be all that leftover cyanide…

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Who knew cyanide was so good for the skin?

Roasting is definitely much more of a chore. Sitting next to a wood fired stove, I use what is essentially the shell of a coconut (though not exactly) to move the gari around in rapid, back and forth motions to prevent it from burning. I had the luck of using one of Burro’s new Gari Elephants (shameless product placement), which are designed to increase both comfort and yield. For instance, the black wood guard on the top of the stove gives me a place to rest my arm without getting burnt, and insulated wood paneling on the side also prevents my shorts from catching on fire. A chimney keeps the smoke from blowing directly into my eyes. Despite all of this, I was still dripping with sweat after only a half hour of gari roasting.

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I’m pretty sure the fire keeper kept the flames small on purpose so that I wouldn’t burn up

Women will roast gari for the entire day, and often suffer burns and pains from the repetitive motion. Even more serious are the pollutants and particulate matter emitted from wood burning fires, which are responsible for more than 4 million premature deaths per year. While a short term solution may involve fuel switching, namely using LPG rather than wood or charcoal, access to LPG is still limited throughout Ghana. In addition, many men and women believe that LPG is inherently dangerous, which further limits adoption.

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