The traditional food ‘kocho’ – the daily bread to millions of Ethiopians – can now be prepared in a healthier and tastier way thanks to Belgian sauerkraut pots and the Geel Campus of KU Leuven.
Many Belgians do not survive the day without eating potatoes or bread. In the same way, 15 million people in southwest Ethiopia need their kocho, a kind of fibrous pancake, every day.
Kocho is made from the enset plant, also called 'false banana' due to the similarity of both plants. Ethiopians scrape off the trunk, creating a pulp rich in fibre, which is then fermented in pots in the soil. After fermentation the pulp is baked.
‘Fermentation takes three to four months and it regularly goes wrong’, says Professor Leen Van Campenhout, coordinator of the research group Lab4Food (KU Leuven Campus Geel). ‘When it rains heavily, the pots are under water or mould forms on the pulp. In addition, the production of kocho is very hard work: the women scrape the trunks manually and use bamboo canes to pulverise the plant material into pulp.’
‘Kocho production is very similar to sauerkraut fermentation. That's why we shipped 20 sauerkraut pots to experiment on the spot, and it was a success. Using the airtight pots has several advantages: production is more reliable, quality is more constant and there are fewer unsafe microorganisms. And of course there is another important parameter: taste,’ says Professor Van Campenhout.
‘The production in earthenware pots creates new aromas and gives the kocho a different taste. This is also economically important because the taste determines the price on the local market. So we decided to carry out taste tests among the local population and the reactions are very positive.’
In order to be able to apply the process on a larger scale, the Ethiopian Biotechnology Institute is awarding a grant of approximately 125,000 euros. This makes it possible to produce the earthenware pots locally and to develop a machine to pulverise the enset trunks. This way, the production of kocho in Ethiopia becomes a lot more profitable.
The research was partly made possible by VLIRUOS - the Flemish university development cooperation - and the Ethiopian PhD student Addisu Fekadu, who has been conducting research for three years on the preparation of kocho, alternately from Geel and from his homeland.