Microbiological perspectives on

Nigerian Food Processing

Dr.Richard Okagbue

Culture has been defined, in simple terms, as the way

of life of any society. Technically speaking, the term applies

to a complex system which includes methods of doing

things, patterns of behavior, attitudes, values, knowledge

and material objects which are shared and transmitted

from generation to generation. Nigeria is rich in cultures

because of the great diversity of her people.Massive

development of research institutions in recent times

has prompted a continuing interest in the scientific basis

of many cultural practices.

Microbiology is the scientific study of microbes (or micro-

organisms). This group of living organisms have considerable

influence on human life and activity. It is not surprising: they

inhabit animate and inanimate environments such as that

of men and women and other living things (e.g crops and livestock),

soil, water and air. ln these habitats, their (microbial) physical

presence and/or their activities affect man directly or in-

directly. For example, they affect human and animal health,

soil fertility and agricultural productivity, environmental

pollution, shelf-life and quality of foods, wood, leather, etc.

Ultimately, material well-being, perceptions and attitudes

(towards health and disease, dirt and cleanliness plenty

and want) -all of which are aspects of culture, may be deter-

mined or influenced by the nature and activity of micro-

organisms.Since microbes and their activities are often difficult

to observe and appreciate, we are often unaware of their

influences on culture. These facts not withstanding, several

cultural practices designed to preserve food and other materials

such as leather, wood, etc., or to protect the health of humans,

livestock and crops, are directed towards relevant microbial

agents. For example, the efficacy of certain herbs traditionally

used in foods and medicines has been shown to be due to

the activity of specific chemical components of herbs against

some pathogenic and food spoilage micro-organisms.


Microbiological science has provided a basis for

understanding the production and quality of some

African foods and beverages such as dawadawa,

palmwine and burukutu beer. Traditional prod-

uction of the foods and beverages depends on

micro-organisms, especially yeasts and bacteria

which producers utilize in appropriate processes.

In Nigeria, appropriate technology for selection

of growth of desirable strains of micro-organisms

were developed over many centuries through system-

atic practical experience.

See Richard Okagbue, "The Scientific Basis of Traditional Food Processing in

Nigerian Communities." In G.T. Emeagwali. African Systems of Science,

Technology and Art. London: Karnak House, 1993.

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