Better than Antibiotics…Senegalese fermented foods!

Better than Antibiotics…Senegalese fermented foods!


Antibiotic types such as are used in today’s medicine made their advent somewhere between 1940 and 1962. My parents’ arrival in Senegal was 1956. My mom, the village medic praised these wonder drugs often; however, what she used daily was NOT antibiotics. Instead she used the home-grown wisdom of food-fermentation which had been embedded in the village of Djibanar, Senegal for centuries. True, it was used as a preventative for the most part, because your gut is your body’s first line of defense,  but crazy as it seems, she used them as medicines as well!

Senegal and its surroundings were well known for their fermented cooked cereals which were staples of their children’s diets. Villagers hadn’t studied as to the science of their foods, only taken note as to how their children and families thrived when offered the growth of helpful microorganisms called probiotics which “positively affect the host by cultivating intestinal microbial stability.” Paul Mokoena, Lecturer in Microbiology, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Your miraculous body can create its own microbial world to benefit itself. However, to help it along, the Senegalese utilized the oldest food preservation technique on record; fermentation. They created wonder-foods from millet, maize, cassava roots, sorghum and sometimes even meat or fish.
One food I remember well was “mona,” (Mandinka or Mandingo word) a yogurt like non-alcoholic fermented cereal probably made from, a combination of maize and millet. In fact, it was my mainstay immediately following a horrific puncture wound sustained at age eight. Then gradually, rice and “kutcha,” steamed purslane were added to my diet.

Cooked hot cereals cooled and fermented

Purslane, portulaca
“Kutcha” or purslane

The science of probiotic microbes includes their ability to inhibit and destroy mycotoxins and phytic acid, two elements which are in effect anti-nutrients.
Probiotics also improve digestion, create vitamins from its storehouse, inhibit spoilage and prevent diarrhea. There is even some proof that they avert tooth decay, help regulate diabetes and can decrease bad cholesterol.
As Paul Mokoena, lecturer in Microbiology, at the University of KwaZulu-Nalal, South Africa wrote, “Just because we now live in a world where antibiotics are more available doesn’t mean the old ways are irrelevant!” (The Conversation AFRICA)

Today’s new wave of interest is in the fermented foods of yesterday. Some people are chopping vegetables such as cucumbers, cabbage, green tomatoes and so on, adding live lactobacilli from a good quality non-sweetened yogurt to create their own inexpensive healthy prebiotic/probiotic pharmacies in the comfort of their own homes – as the Africans have done for ages. And it’s all the rage in this new age! The best source of information on this subject, in my opinion is a book called “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon.

The Senegalese women owned two-story kitchens like this where they fermented their grains in the top story, out of reach of animals



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