Egusi (also known by variations including agusi, agushi) is the name for the fat- and protein-rich seeds of certain cucurbitaceous plants (squash, melon, gourd), which after being dried and ground are used as a major ingredient in West African cuisine. Authorities disagree whether the word is used more properly for the seeds of the colocynth, those of a particular large-seeded variety of the watermelon, or generically for those of any cucurbitaceous plant. The characteristics and uses of all these seeds are broadly similar. Major egusi-growing nations include Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Nigeria, and Cameroon.
Egusi soup is a kind of soup thickened with the ground seeds and popular in West Africa, with considerable local variation. Besides the seeds, water, and oil, egusi soup typically contains leaf vegetables, other vegetables, seasonings, and meat. Leaf vegetables typically used for egusi soup include bitterleaf, pumpkin leaf, celosia and spinach. Typical other vegetables include tomatoes and okra. Typical seasonings include chili peppers, onions, and locust beans. Also commonly used are beef, goat, fish, shrimps, or crayfish.
In Nigeria, egusi is very popular among the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria, the Ibibio people and the Efik people (Calabar people) of southern Nigeria, the Hausa of northern Nigeria and the Edo people, Esan people, and Etsakọ people of the south-west of Nigeria. Yoruba people in general and quite notably the people of Ọṣun State – especially the Ijesha people – eat “Iyan and Egusi”, a pounded yam and egusi soup.
In Ghana, egusi is also called akatoa of agushi, and as in Nigeria is used for soup and stew, and most popularly in palaver sauce.
A plate of pounded yam (Iyan) and egusi soup
In the late 1980s, the Canadian government funded a project intended to develop a machine to help Cameroonians shell egusi seeds. A machine has been developed in Nigeria to shell egusi.
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