African locust beans, a local seasoning popularly known as iru and largely used amongst the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria, has existed for decades. It has culturally been used to prepare different types of delicacies, notably Ewedu, Efo-riro and the famous Ofada sauce.
Nestle’s Maggi, on the other hand, is widely used across tribes and countries for diverse kinds of dishes. The seasoning is not selective and does not have limited use like locust beans. For example, African meals like beans, jollof rice, yam porridge, plantain porridge etc., are not prepared with locust beans but can certainly be prepared with a few Maggi seasoning cubes.
According to The Economist on the same subject, iru is making a comeback as orders for the condiment to be sent from Nigeria have increased from around the world. In Nigeria, the demand for iru has not waned as women (particularly from the Yoruba culture) attest to its use in flavouring their meals. The cosmopolitan nature of a southwest state like Lagos has also added to promoting the condiment among people of other tribes.
Nairametrics sought to find out if Iru poses some threat to the use of Maggi in seasoning food or if it remains as a complementary condiment in cooking traditional meals.
A survey of ladies who attested to cooking regularly agreed that the local seasoning (Iru) possesses a unique taste that many people like to have in their stews or soups, however, the majority do not recognize it as a standalone seasoning. Rather, it is used as a complement with industrial seasoning cubes like Maggi.
Respondents who claimed to cook with Iru exclusively (without adding its industrial “competitor”) said they did so on health grounds due to medical issues such as high blood pressure, obesity and other related conditions.
From a financial standpoint, a wrap of locust beans in the market costs N50 and a cube of Maggi costs N10, in most retail stores. The prices of both condiments did not appear to deter their patrons, however. Speaking with Nairametrics on what she thought about substituting Maggi for Iru, Ajoke a food vendor said, “Iru is necessary when preparing certain meals because of its peculiar taste and aroma but it cannot replace an industrial seasoning like Maggi.”
Mrs Ibrahim, a restaurant owner also maintained that Iru is a signature of Yoruba soups, hence, its frequent use in food preparation.
“If iru is not in the soup, how will you know that it is a Yoruba soup?” she asked jokingly.
“Maggi is important to give you the taste you need to make the soup delicious. That taste cannot be derived alone from Iru, that is why we use Maggi even when we cook with Iru,” she added.
Another food vendor around the Ikorodu axis commented on the health benefits of the local seasoning, including its anti-oxidant properties and also claimed it treats hypertension and eye problems, which is why many aged Yoruba women explicitly use this seasoning in their meals. She added that most people, however, still use Maggi simultaneously with the local seasoning.
Locally used seasoning may still have a long way to go in competing with more established seasoning but with better packaging and branding, the looming threat may be closer than expected.