Garri, a by-product of cassava tubers is a popular staple food common to the people of the rain forest belt of West Africa.
It is hugely popular in Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone and maintains an important position in the timetable of many households regardless of social class.
Because of it’s year round availability, swelling capacity (garri has the capacity to triple in volume on contact with lukewarm water or cold water) and how ridiculously affordable it is at grocery stores and the market, garri has aptly been nicknamed by many as ”food for the common man”.
In this article, we provide a quick overview of this classic West African staple and explore its health benefits, storage, preservation and creative recipes you can make with it.
In this article:
- What is garri?
- Types of garri
- What does garri taste like?
- Garri recipes
- Where to buy garri?
- Storage of garri
- Nutrition and benefits of garri
- Related Information
What is garri?
Garri is a creamy granular flour obtained by processing the starchy tuberous roots of freshly harvested cassava.
It is made by crushing cassava roots into a wet mash, then fermenting and sieving into small fragments known as grits. The grits are then fried with cooking oil to develop into a dry, free flowing product.
Cassava is the root tuber used to make garri. It is one of the most popular and widely consumed food crop in Africa even though it’s origin traces back to South America.
A root vegetable forming the underground part of the cassava shrub, cassava is a significant source of carbohydrates (energy) in the tropical and subtropical regions and contains few essential supplements (of little amounts) such as Vitamin C, fiber and potassium.
Raw cassava, both the sweet and bitter varieties also contains cyanide, which is toxic to ingest and can present negative health effects like goiter, ataxia or even partial paralysis.
Processing raw cassava into different products like farinha, tapioca, cassava flour or garri—which is our main focus in this article, significantly reduces the total cyanogenic content to a level safe for human consumption. Boiling or baking too is another option.
The process involved in extracting garri from raw cassava is a long arduous one that must be done conscientiously.
It can be achieved traditionally, in smallholder units, with the aid of rudimentary tools and methods, or modernly, using avant-garde machinery and techniques.
Both processes involves the use of manpower, mostly mid-aged women and their children, but the traditional method requires more.
The steps involved in processing cassava into garri grain include:
- Peeling: The outer brown skin and the thicker inner cream layer of the cassava roots are removed using a knife or peeler. Fresh, mature and wound-free cassava are used in order to obtain a high quality grain in the end.
- Washing: The naked cassava roots are washed with clean water and scrubbed with a scourer to eliminate stains and unpeeled fragments which can ruin the quality of the final product.
- Grating: The cassava roots are gradually fed into a motorized grater to grind them into a wet mash. Alternatively, they are scrubbed against a perforated metal sheet to reduce them into a wet pulp. Grating is the beginning of the cassava detoxification process which continues simultaneously with fermentation, dewatering and the roasting process.
- Bagging: The grated cassava pulp is collected into a clean bowl and transferred into a clean polypropylene sack.
- Fermenting: The mash contained in the polypropylene sack is left out on a fermentation rack to ferment for 1 to 5 days depending on the taste preferences of the target consumer. The longer the cassava mash is allowed to ferment, the lower the pH level of the mash or the more sour the garri becomes. Fermentation of cassava mash is an important step in terms of taste, flavor, and safety of the final garri product. The pulp stuffed in the polyethylene sack can be mixed with palm oil prior to its fermentation time so the step can be skipped during the toasting or roasting stage. The addition of palm oil at this point has the added advantage of reducing the cyanide content of garri. 
- Dewatering: The bag of cassava mash is pressed using a traditional or modern pressing technique to reduce the water content by 40-50%. Dewatering also contributes to the cassava detoxification process by removing cyanohydrins and other toxic compounds along with the waste effluents. Dewatering before fermentation or gradual dewatering and simultaneous fermentation can also be done instead.
- Disintegration and Sieving: After the dewatering operation, the cassava mash is formed into a firm wet cake. The cake is then separated into small pieces (or grits) using a motorized cassava grater or manually by hand. Next, the grits are sieved using a woven or rotary sieve to remove foreign objects, lumps and improperly grated cassava fragments. Sieving is an important operation in terms of grain consistency and final texture of the product. Different sizes of sieve can be used to obtain varying grain size for the final product.
- Roasting/toasting: The grits obtained from the preceding operation are then fed gradually into a hot aluminum pan cast over a wood fire for roasting. A mechanical fryer is used in the modern method instead. Vegetable oil, shea fat, or palm oil can also be smeared over the pan surface prior to roasting. This makes the garri more nutritional and tasty and can impact greatly to the final color depending on the staining power of the additive oil or fat. The final moisture content of the garri is reduced to 8-10 % after roasting. The garri is ready when it turns into a dry, creamy granules.
- Cooling and drying and re-sieving: The roasted garri is spread thinly on an elevated platform and allowed to cool for some hours to develop into a drier and crisper product. The cooled garri grain is then sieved for evenness depending on the consumers preference.
- Packaging: Soon after sieving, the granules are packed in unit packages of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 kg in polyethylene bags or polyethylene-lined polypropylene sacks. The garri is now ready for shipping.
Garri can vary in taste, color, grain size and swelling capacity depending on the region where it is produced, variety of cassava used, processing method employed or any of the combination above.
It can be mixed with other ingredients like cocoyam or soybean, or made with supplement rich oils like soya bean or coconut to increase the nutritional content.
Garri made in local smallholder units is believed to have a better nutrient profile and lower toxic cyanide compared to the industrially processed one. This is due to the longer fermentation process observed in the local method as compared to the industrial method.
Types of garri
Garri is commonly cream white or yellow depending on the type of cassava used and whether palm oil was added during the roasting stage.
Garri can also be bland, mild sour or acidic sour, depending on how long the cassava mash was set aside to ferment. Putting it all together, garri can be classified into two groups based on color and into three groups based on taste.
Types of garri based on color:
- White garri
- Yellow garri.
White garri derives it’s cream white color from the use of white-fleshed cassava roots during it’s production.
Yellow garri on the other hand derives it’s yellowness from the use of yellow-fleshed cassava roots during it’s production or the addition of red palm oil during the fermentation or toasting stages of white cassava.
Yellow garri fried using red palm oil is often lower in cyanide content and more finer in texture compared to the white variant and the one obtained from a yellow root cassava.
Similarly, yellow garri obtained from yellow-fleshed cassava tubers is often higher in Vitamin A content compared to the ones obtained from either of the two methods, even though the palm oil processed garri also contains a decent amount of vitamin A.
Types of garri based on taste
- Bland garri:
- Mild sour garri:
- Acid sour garri:
Longer fermentation is the factor that determines how sour a garri product turns out. Garri fermented for a single day would be less sour compared to that fermented for a longer period.
Putting in other words, garri processed for a period less than two days would develop a bland to mild sour taste, while that processed for periods between 3-5 days would develop an acidic or very acidic sour taste.
Garri fermentation for more than one day is usually recommended to effectively dissolve liberated cyanide (from grating) in pulp water and eliminate most of it through water waste and volatilization during dewatering and roasting respectively.
Types of garri based on region
- Ijebu garri: This type of garri originated from the Yoruba people of the Ijebu region in Nigeria. The garri can be made white or yellow and is fermented for about 7 days to develop an acidic sour taste.
- Ghana garri: This type of garri is made in Ghana (as the name suggests) and the production process is slightly different. The peeled cassava tubers are first soaked in water, then grated and sun dried before roasting. As a result, the garri is more crispier and lasts longer than others. It can be made into different colors and taste.
- Bendel garri: This type of garri originated form the mid-western region of Nigeria. It is also referred to as “white garri” and is left to ferment for a period of 2-3 days to develop a taste varying from bland to very acidic.
What does garri taste like?
The taste of garri can vary from bland to acidic sour depending on how long the cassava mash was left to ferment. This can vary region by region, as different population can crave different levels of fermentation.
For example, consumers in the south-eastern part of Nigeria and most part of Ghana prefer a sweet to mild, sour taste in garri, while people of the south-western part of Nigeria prefer an acidic taste in garri.
Additionally, garri reduced to a finer texture has a more pleasant mouthfeel compared to the one made with larger lumps and grains.
How garri is eaten across West Africa
There are different ways garri is consumed across West Africa. The most common ways include.
- Cereal: Garri is soaked in ice-cold water with or without sweeteners and milk, and combined with crunches like cookies, biscuits, nuts and fruits. The soaked garri can also be eaten with fried fish, moin moin, bread, akara and bean porridge.
- Garri and egusi soup (a.k.a eba): In Nigeria, garri is eaten as a main dish by turning it into a mush thicker than mash potato consistency. The mash, referred to as eba, is made by sprinkling fine garri grain into a pot of boiling water and stirring constantly until it forms into a thick dough. The dough or Eba can be eaten with rich vegetable soups, stews and sauce.
- Garri Foto: Garri Foto is traditionally eaten in Ghana. It is also referred to as garri jollof and it is made by mixing garri with tomato sauce and vegetables. Garri Foto can be eaten as a main course or an accompaniment for rice or beans.
- Garri Salad: Garri can also be used as a grainy addition to salad instead of couscous, rice or whatever grain one might be using. It is a quick way to make lunch that is light but energy rich.
How to store garri
Proper storage of garri will prevent deterioration, moisture absorption and mold growth. Garri should be stored in moisture impermeable bags like polyethylene-lined polypropylene sacks, plastic-lined polythene sack, rice bags or plastic buckets. The seal should be air-tight as well. Garri stored under these conditions can last for up-to a year.
Nutritional value of garri
Cassava used to make garri is a significant source of carbohydrate (energy) and also provides a small amount of fiber, minerals and vitamins.
Processing cassava into garri by peeling, grating, fermenting and roasting affects the nutritional value of the cassava root through modification and losses in nutrients of higher value.
Overall, the nutrient profile of garri is unremarkable as the amounts of vitamins and minerals it provides are minimal. A cup of white garri provides nothing but calories added with a small amounts of supplements and dietary fiber.
Yellow garri–made form yellow-fleshed cassava and the one treated with red oil, however, contains a decent amount of Vitamin A but with lesser starch and other nutrients.
Nutrient profile of raw cassava vs processed garri.
|Nutrient||Whole cassava root (100 g)||Garri (100 g)|
|Protein||1.0 g||0.37 g|
|Vitamin C||33 mg||2 mg|
|Fiber||1.3 g||0.6 g|
|Carbohydrates||38 g||0.454 mg|
|Iron||3.5 mg||1.5 mg|
|Phosphorus||47 mg||18 mg|
|Calcium||26 mg||10 mg|
|Fat||0.1 g||0.2 g|
Ndife, Joel & Oluchi, Nwaubani & Elijah, Aniekpeno. (2019). Effect of palm oil inclusion on the quality of garri produced from white and yellow cassava (Manihot esculenta cranz) roots.