What is omo tuo?
Omo tuo is a Ghanaian rice side-dish originating from the Hausa people, but is eaten throughout the country. It is made by cooking very soft, glutinous rice, then pounding or rolling the rice into sticky balls. Some describe it as “rice fufu” or simply as rice balls. It is often eaten with groundnut (peanut) soup and can also be eaten with palm nut soup. In the Northern Hausa-Fulani territories of Nigeria, it is eaten with a baobab leaf and dried okra soup called miyan kuka.
What is the history of rice in West Africa?
Rice, particularly Oryza glaberrima, is indigenous to West Africa, and has been cultivated there for at least 3000 years. The rice is naturally reddish in color with a nutty taste. It is often presented in its processed form, where the bran and germ is removed resulting in a whitish rice. Although it is not widely eaten today; it still makes up 20% of the rice cultivated in West Africa. It has now mostly been replaced by Asian rice, oryza sativa, which was introduced to Africa by the Portuguese in the 1500s.
Portuguese explorers to West Africa noted as early as the 15th century that the Jola or Djula people, the ancient rice growers of Senegal, employed a rice growing technology that was to be admired. West African rice is easy to grow due to its low labor and pest resistant qualities, so it is not fully known why its consumption was surpassed by the Asian counterpart.
Test your knowledge about Ghanaian cuisine
Find out how much you know about Ghanaian recipes, local ingredients, preparation methods and the history behind this delicious West African cuisine.
Omo tuo, as it is known in Ghana, has its roots from the Hausa people in the Northern region but is widely enjoyed throughout the country. They refer to it as tuwo shinkafa. The word tuwo is most likely the Hausa equivalent to different types of fufu or dumpling made from a grain flour, for example tuwo zaafi, a millet or corn and cassava dumpling, or tuwo masara, a cornmeal dumpling. The Northern Nigerian tuwo shinkafa is usually made from ground rice as opposed to soft then pounded whole rice.
How to make omo tuo
It is best to use long or short grain varieties of rice which have not been par-boiled. Thai jasmine rice, long or short grain white rice or glutinous rice with high levels of amylopectin (Asian sticky rice) are the best varieties to use for this. Par-boiled rice and basmati rice are not suitable as the cooked grains normally separate easily and lack a sticky consistency.
To cook, simply boil the rice with some salt and water until soft. The amount of water will depend on the type of rice used. It is not necessary to drench the rice in water, but to add just a little extra to ensure a very soft, sticky result. Mash up the rice with a wooden spoon and stir as you would banku or fufu. Then form rice balls by swirling the rice in a moistened round bowl. It is helpful to add a drop of oil to prevent the rice from sticking to the bowl’s surface.
The different versions of rice balls
Asia comes to mind when thinking about sticky rice dishes as they have a wide variety of sweet and savory types. Indonesian lemper ayam (sticky chicken rice), Vietnamese fried sticky rice cakes (xoi chien phong), Japanese sweet rice balls (ohagi botamochi) and onigiri (rice ball snack).
One dish in the French quarter of New Orleans, thought to have African origins, is calas, fried rice fritters. However this seems to be more of a distant cousin to puff puff or beignets, known as kala in Liberia.
- 2 cups rice long grain white rice, jasmine
- 3 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Rinse the rice to remove excess starch. This is optional as the starch encourages the stickiness of the rice.
- Place the rice, salt and water in a pot and bring to a boil.
- Turn the heat down to medium and allow the rice to steam in the pot, until most of the water is absorbed.
- Using a sturdy wooden spoon, pound the rice using a mash and fold method. Bring the rice toward the side of the pot, then turn over. Repeat until the rice is mushy and glutinous.
- To serve, scoop the desired amount into a wet bowl and swirl around until balls are formed.
- Omu tuo may be served with any type of soup but is it traditional to serve it on a Sunday with peanut soup stew or palm nut soup.