Iru (Fermented Locust Beans). How it is made.

“Parkia biglobosa”, also known as the African locust bean tree or néré tree. Photo credit: Karl Gercens Flickr

In the St Louis Primary school, opposite our house in Orita Challenge, Ibadan. There was a big tree right in the centre of the school we called “komiko” tree. We snuck into the school compound when the school was closed and our parents were not home to collect the flowers of the tree, which is reminiscent of cordless microphone with a red buff. We called it “kominko” (knock my head) because when the red flowering part fell off, it revealed a the hard centre we used to knock ourselves playfully

The flower developed into these pods.

Photo credit  – Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia

We also used to take the ripe pods of the tree that have a delicious yellow pulp. We would snack on it in loads! I can liken it’s taste to baobab.

Mature pods of the Parkia biglobosa Photo credit

Once we learnt that the seeds were used to make Iru (fermented locust beans) we would collect the seeds. We never got around to making anything of them.

Dried Iru.
I took a sniff of this as i opened the bowl and I caught a whiff of dark chocolate or cocoa powder. I asked my husband and my kid sister and they smelt it too.

Storage and Shelf life: In an airtight container it would last many weeks at room temperature,  many months in a fridge, years in a freezer but the structural integrity may get compromised.

My son loves iru and picks them out to eat from his soup, he even asked that I make him Iru sauce. I learnt from a comment on facebook that Iru sauce is delicacy in a part of Benue state. At his age I hated Iru so much I always picked it out of my food. I probably got past my teen years before I stopped picking Iru out of my food.

Yemisi Aribisala in her book “Longthroat Memoirs” describes Iru as one of the kings of Umami.

Fermented locust beans is popular ingredient in cooking in many parts of Nigeria. Called Iru by the Yoruba, in the north it is called Dawadawa, in the some parts Ogiri Okpei, Ugba in Igala parts of Edo state…. Before our grandmothers found bouillon cubes and msg seasonings that was one of the major seasonings for native meals, stews and sauces. Fermented Locust beans is also known by the some of these names in some parts of Africa “Dodongba”, “Doruwa”,  “Netetou”, “Sumbala”…

How Iru is made.

In the south west of Nigeria there are three types of Iru.

  • Iru Wowo
  • Iru Pete
  • Dried Iru

Iru is gotten from the pods of the “Parkia biglobosa”, also known as the African locust bean or néré. Iru production is still majorly done with traditional sometimes primitive methods. Which include

  • Sourcing the Nere (I think the yorubas call it Iyere) seeds, from the farmers or the market,
  • Boiling it till soft,
  • Pounding the boiled seeds to remove the husks (In some places to remove the husk, the boiled seeds are trampled on with feet in a large bowl or designated area)
  • Rinsing repeatedly in water with a basket,
  • Sorting,
  • Repeating the boiling process, pounding again till all the husks are removed, rinsing repeatedly and sorting.

The clean fresh Iru is then stored in calabashes, covered with banana leaves or gmelina arborea leaves and left to ferment for 3 days. This develops the flavour of the Iru, yeast also develops. On the 3rd day, a generous amount of salt is added to the Iru, to slow down the fermentation and prevent some other microbes from developing in the Iru.

Iru Woro.
This type of Iru is used mostly in vegetable soups like Efo Riro, Egusi soup, Ofada sauce, Ila Asepo e.t.c

Storage and Shelf life: Few days in room temperature,  Few weeks in a fridge, months in freezer

To make Iru Pete, during the boiling process, an extract said to be derived from the Roselle (zobo) plant -Hibiscus sabdariffa- is added, this helps the Iru soften and break down and turns mushy. It is also scooped into a calabash basin and left to ferment for 3 days before salt its added.

Iru Pete.
This iru is mostly used to cook Ewedu. However it can be used in Efo riro , egusi… and for people who don’t like seeing whole Iru seeds in their soups.

Storage and Shelf life: Few days at room temperature, Few weeks in a fridge, months in freezer
Dried Iru discs .
This is usually made by molding the fermented locust beans into discs, like a thin patty, the discs are then either sundried or smoked over and open fire.
To use this, you soak in tepid water till the seeds are loose and use. I’ve read that some people toast it slightly over fire to realise the oils before breaking the disc apart to use. I haven’t tried this yet.

Storage and Shelf life: In an airtight container this would last several weeks to months at room temperature and would keep even longer in a fridge or freezer.

Photo credit: Nigerian Lazy Chef.

Also increasingly popular is powdered Iru. This is derived by blending dried fermented locust beans into powder. The ingenuity of this is that people who don’t like seeing whole Iru in their meal, but want the richness of the flavour of iru, can conveniently add it to their meals. Powdered Iru is also easier to store and send as gift especially to friends in the diaspora.

Powdered Iru
Can be used in any soups or dishes that require Iru.

Storage and Shelf life: In an airtight container this would last several weeks to months at room temperature and would keep even longer in a fridge or freezer.

In which form to you like your Iru. Let me know in the comment section.

Author: Omolabake for #OunjeAladun

Food should be an experience, one to be savored, explored, experimented with, played with and expressed. I hope I can take you on different parts of my journeys with food through Ounje Aladun. I'm Omolabake Bode-Matthew, a Foodie, Gardener, Entrepreneur ( I run a healthy beverage options company Fontaine De Vie), Mum, Wife, Lawyer by certificates lol, pretend art enthusiast, lover of good music, can't sing, can't dance... And I welcome you to my blog.

7 thoughts

  1. After reading this now, I want all the types of Iru. I have only tried the Iru Woro so now I am definitely going to be on the look out for the rest.


  2. This is valuable lesson Omolabake. I cannot wait to try these various methods of our famous iru.


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