Eat and enjoy the health benefits of dolichos

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Dolichos, also called turtle beans, are a small type of legume. In Kenya, they are a delicacy among the Kikuyu community (referred to as Njahi). It is an important food, which is typically served during traditional ceremonies including weddings.

Their history, however, dates back 7000 years ago when they were popular in the Latin American cuisine.

They fix nitrogen

Dolichos are a rich source of nitrogen, through nitrogen fixation, and are often intercropped with maize to provide the much-needed nitrogen. In this article, we seek to encourage more communities, other than the Kikuyu, to plant these black beans using organic methods-without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides - and to consume them as part of their health diet and as a source of healthy protein and fibre.

Many health benefits

Why should you consume organically grown ‘njahi”? Some of the reasons why you are encouraged to grow and consume organically grown dolichos is that:

• They are an excellent source of vegetarian protein; good quality protein that can replace “nyama” for those who cannot afford meat.

• They are a good source of insoluble fibre. This fibre has several benefits including serving as pre-biotics (food for the healthy bacteria in your gut), as a “filler food” which create a feeling of “fullness” and hence reduce the need to eat extra food.

• They cleanse the gut, by serving a bulk forming purgative - through various mechanisms and complement the healing process of inflammatory gut conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut and hemorrhoids (bleeding from piles at the extreme end of the rectum).

• When absorbed into circulation and metabolized, through various processes, they contribute to reduction of blood pressure and heart health.

• The beans also play a key role in blood sugar regulation by slowing down the release of simple sugars. This is because they contain complex carbohydrates and fibre which create a feeling of satiety (fullness) and reduce more intake of sugar.

Dolichos have a low glycaemic index and are therefore recommended for diabetics and people, including farmers, who may want to regulate their blood sugar levels.

• Research studies have shown that dolichos have powerful diuretic properties- this means that they can facilitate the body’s removal of excess fluids, through the kidneys. Infact, their effect, in some studies has been found to be similar or equal to using the drug Lasix, without the associated side effects.

• For those keen on losing weight, it has compounds known as phenols, which help to reduce weight thus eating njahi is highly recommended.

Excess weight is partly responsible for diabetes, hypertension, arthritis and other lifestyle diseases.

• Dolichos have been shown to have anti-cancerous and antiaging properties because their dark colour shows they are a rich source of antioxidants. These antioxidants neutralize free radicals in our bodies that cause cell damage associated with cancer cells development and speeding up the aging process.

Dolichos are rich in good quality proteins and fibre. They help regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, among other health benefits for consumers.

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Benefits of Njahi

Other benefits, which should encourage more people to consume dolichos include:

• They also contain minerals like potassium, magnesium and low sodium levels which make them good for the heart and generally aid in regulating blood pressure.

• They also contain vital nutrients like iron, zinc, B vitamins, folate and manganese, which make dolichos a rich and delicious “superfood.”

• Ayurveda uses njahi to treat a variety of conditions ranging from rheumatism to worm removal, treating conjunctivitis (eye inflammation) and piles (haemorrhoids).

• Another great benefit of njahi is its use in extracting phlegm (thick mucous) associated with coughs and colds.

• Taking njahi powder in a little bit of water regularly, helps in treating and controlling skin rashes and boils.

Njahi liquid is also used to regulate fever.

Njahi also helps in lowering cholesterol levels.

• Contrary to what many people think, if well prepared and cooked, they help alleviate and relief gas or flatulence.

How to sprout and cook dolichos

Black beans are available year-round, in the market and in grocery stores either dried and packaged or canned. They have a dense, almost meaty texture that makes them a popular source of protein in vegetarian dishes. One is, however, encouraged to find and purchase the organically grown varieties. One way to eat “njahi” is in the form of sprouts. Sprouts have a very rich concentration of high quality proteins loaded with useful enzymes and highly bioavailable micronutrients. You can add the “njahi” sprouts to salads or eat the sprouts themselves by adding a little salt, cummin, lemon, finely minced onions and olive oil.

Sort and soak them

When preparing dolichos, it is important to first sort (pick out any small rocks or other debris that may have ended up in the package). Wash and soak them in water for about 8 to 10 hours before cooking in order to achieve optimum flavor and texture and enable faster cooking.

Pour the soaking water- when you can split them easily between your fingers, you know  they are ready for cooking. Be careful not to soak them for more than 12 hours, otherwise they become mushy and spoil the taste. Soaking dried legumes reduces the amount of time needed to cook them. In addition it helps remove substances that cause gas and flatulence associated with eating beans.

Some cooking tips

You can make a hearty black bean soup to warm you up on cold days, especially these cold and rainy months of May, June and July by blending cooked black beans with onions, tomatoes, and your favourite spices.

• Blend cooked black beans with garlic, onion, fresh cilantro and lime juice for a quick and easy bean dip.

• Mix black beans, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, sharp cheddar cheese and salsa together for a simple taco salad.

Dr. Peter Mokaya is the Director of Organic Consumers Alliance (OCA). For more information go to or contact him at [email protected] or [email protected]

>> Share your experiences with TOF and fellow farmers. Send email to [email protected],  leave a comment below this article or SMS to 0715 916 136.



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