Okpa is a delicacy that is popular in eastern Nigeria. It is made with Bambara nuts or Bambara beans. Being one of the healthy snacks available in Nigeria, okpa, as it is called in Igbo language, is known as epa-roro in Yoruba, and kwaruru or gurjiya in Hausa. It is also called “lion’s food” or “the king’s meal”.
Okpa is rich in crude protein (amino acids, such as lysine, valine), carbohydrate, fibre and energy. It is said to contain vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, iron, magnesium, fluoride, zinc, selenium, sodium and copper.
Okpa is available as the dried nuts, which may be boiled or roasted. It is popularly eaten and sold as the nuts pudding, which is cooked using the steaming method. It is also available in powder form, which can be used to thicken soups.
Pharmacological actions and medicinal uses
Okpa is a source of protein in the diet of predominantly vegetarian people. It is said to boost blood level, prevent bone diseases, boost the immune system, help to prevent cancer, and eliminate insomnia.
The valine in okpa not only aids in the healthy growth of children, normal regulation of the immune system and the body’s nitrogen, but also in the management of stress, repairs of the tissues of the muscles, and increase in metabolism. Because of its high content of all the essential nutrients needed in food, it helps in the prevention of malnutrition and other health problems such as kwashiorkor and rickets, which are triggered or caused by poor and inadequate dieting.
Okpa helps in digestion and serves as an appetite suppressant, which is good for weight management (weight loss). It also helps in reducing the chances of getting cancer and other health issues because of the presence of antioxidants that protect the body from harmful food chemicals.
The minerals contained in the Bambara nuts/pudding (okpa) such as calcium, protect the body from bone diseases, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, among others. Lysine, a constituent of okpa, helps in the proper absorption of calcium in the body.
Other health benefits of okpa include prevention of diarrhoea and other irritable bowel movement syndromes, regulation of the menstrual flow – which includes both prolonged and heavy flow cycles, management of ulcers, lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, promoting child development, and serving as a healthy food for toddlers.
Although this food crop has no known negative effects, excessive intake can lead to weight gain.
Economic uses and potentials
Okpa is an important component of animal feed and a major source of biological nitrogen fixation in a cropping system. Studies revealed that an estimated 0.2 million tonnes of Bambara groundnut was produced globally in 2018 production year; a larger proportion of this was from West African countries, with a total production of 0.14 million tonnes from an estimated area of 0.18 million hectares. Presently, one paint bucket (about 3kg) of Bambara nuts costs N6,000 -N7,000; a pack of 500g costs N2,000.
A study in southeastern Nigeria showed that okpa processing in the area is profitable, with respondents making an average of N4,450.00 per day. Okpa has the potential to improve food security in Nigeria. There are potentials in the cultivation, processing, distribution and sales of okpa for the agricultural, transport, food and pharmaceutical industries.
It is recommended that government should invest more in okpa cultivation, processing and research. This will boost food and job security nationwide.
By Pharm. Ngozika Okoye MSc, MPH, FPCPharm
(Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency)
Finelib(2017). Health Benefits and Nutritional Values of Okpa. Available at: https://www.finelib.com/about/nigeria-food-produce/health-benefits-and-nutritional-values-of-okpa/378. Accessed 9/10/23.