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What Is Kenkey?

By Eugene P.
Updated May 16, 2024
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Kenkey is a type of bread or dumpling that serves as a staple dish in the African country of Ghana. It is made from ground maize that has been allowed to ferment before being steamed or boiled into a final solid shape. The actual process of making kenkey can be very time-consuming, but it is still performed nearly every day in certain areas. There are really two main types of kenkey, both named after the cultures in Ghana that regularly cook them. Ga kenkey is different from the Fanti version, because it is not fermented for as long and is traditionally wrapped differently before steaming.

The basic ingredient in kenkey is maize. In the most authentic version of the recipe, maize is taken off the cob and soaked in water until soft, usually overnight. The soft maize is then mashed into thick dough, sometimes with cassava added. A faster and possibly more convenient method of making the dough is to use finely ground maize flour mixed with warm water until just barely soaked through.

The maize dough is placed in a container, covered and allowed to sit in a warm area for several days. During this time, natural bacteria in the air cause the kenkey to ferment, changing the basic flavor of the maize. One problem that has to be avoided during fermentation is allowing the starter to sit for too long, in which case a rotten odor will develop and the dough will be unusable. The Fanti version of the dish requires that it sit for anywhere from a few extra hours to nearly a full day longer than Ga kenkey.

The fermented dough is split into two halves. The first half is placed in a pot of boiling water and stirred until it breaks down, cooks and turns into a thick, pasty substance. The second half of the dough is then added to the first outside the pan and they are kneaded together until the dough stiffens.

The finished dough is then wrapped before it is cooked. The Ga type of dumpling is wrapped in the husks of the maize. The Fanti version is wrapped in several layers of banana or plantain leaves. Once wrapped, the kenkey is usually steamed for several hours until done, thought it also can be boiled in water. The food can be served alongside many dishes, but is often enjoyed with fish and tomato-based sauces.

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