The making of injera/Enjera
1. Historical Background
Injera is a specific type of bread that is part and parcel to the Ethiopian culture. Injera is a necessity food item for almost all Ethiopians and is utilized in almost all-traditional cuisine. Food in Ethiopia consists of a number of traditional dishes. The injera is typically served with either meat or vegetable sauces. A popular food called wot is a hot spicy pepper sauce, which is eaten with basic ingredients like vegetables, meat and chicken. Kocho is another popular food derived from "Ensete" stem and root (false banana tree and is indigenous in the southern and central Ethiopia) that is used to make bread. A traditional Ethiopian meal involves a gathering of people, who eat together from one large circular plate. Injera is also consumed in Eritria and some part of Somalia.
Teff was almost lost to the world. It was cultivated by farmers in the high land of Ethiopia. The grains of teff are very small, almost one-tenth of the size of wheat, and are very time cosuming and labor intensive to separate them from their stalks. Because of Ethiopia’s geography, the teff farmers did not trade their grain with the rest of Africa. It was one of the reason why Teff was almost exclusively grown only in Ethiopia for many years. But, in the recent years individuals in Idaho and Minnesota have introduced teff to the United States. Epecially the individual from Idaho (Wayne Carlson) who worked in Ethiopia in the early 1970s as a US-AID worker is the most succefull enterpenuer who introduced teff and cultivates and distributes teff to Ethiopians in the US today.
The procees of making injera requires the tef flour to be mixed with water and allowed to ferment for few days. This fermentation, as mentioned above, is a delicate procees and is temperature and humidity senstive. Traditionally the batter prepared is cooked either on a specialised electric stove or a pan made of clay using fire. This most valued grain used to make injera is known to be iron-rich. It is also packed with protein, and calcium, it is also one of the gluten-free grains, along with other grains such as, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and quinoa (1). In fact, one cup of cooked teff contains as much iron as the USDA recommends for adults in one day (1). It’s nutritionally rich because most of the grain is made up of bran and germ, where the nutrients live. The whole grain is made into flour. Teff’s production is limited to certain middle altitudes and adequate rainfall regions, and so it is relatively expensive for the average household. Since the overwhelming majority of highland Ethiopians are poor farming households, they must grow their own subsistence grain. Hence, grains such as barley and corn are often mixed with teff, or used in place of teff.
Kotcho is extracted from the false bannana tree and is fermented to make bread. The process requires a smooth wood surface leaned at an angle (slant) against any hard support and the false bananna stalk laid parallel to the wood surface. Holding the top of the false bannana stalk against the wood, a sharp scraping object is used to scrape the pulp from the stalk in a down ward motion until the bulk of the pulp is removed from the stalk. This then is burried in a specially prepared pit and covered for fermentation. Once ready it is taken out and specially prepared to make bread out of it. The remaining scraped stalk is dried to make ropes or burlap sacks out of it. The bread is known to be a good source of fiber and roughage.
2. Energy requirement.
Fuels for cooking Injera or other traditional bread include, fuel wood, charcoal, dung, and other crop residues. In most developing countries like Ethiopia the household sector is the largest energy consumer. In Ethiopia the single largest demand for energy is for subsistence, which accounts for nearly 90% of the total energy consumption (2). This burden of subsistence is carried almost entirely by women. In villages, women have to spend more times in fuel collection. In poor country like Ethiopia, studies have shown that women spend between 11-14 hours for daily chores. This heavy workload in the long run will affect their health. This is because the energy expensed is more than the intake of food to accomplish daily task. The burden of women taking care of the family gets worse when you include the time it takes to collect the fuel wood using bare hand or primitive tools and carries this load over long distances (3).
The urban poor have even a greater problem due to the scarcity of fuel and their incomes have not kept pace with rising cost. A recent survey in Addis Ababa found that over two-thirds of their income of the lowest income group is spent on fuel (3). This group continues to rely on wood fuels, which are becoming very scarce. Recent news has shown that urban dwellers are collecting shrubs and leaves of trees or left over from tree cuttings making the soil open to erosion. This is putting tremendous pressure on the family to maintain a subsistence living. Unless some thing is done soon in terms of energy output in Ethiopia either in the form of alternative energy source or a new energy source or technological development in the near future, the country is putting itself in a dangerous situation in terms of sustaining the availability of fuel wood or its derivative.
As discussed earlier biomass fuels such as wood and its derivatives are used widely in developing countries like Ethiopia, especially in rural and poor urban areas. This biomass is composed of complex organic maters, carbohydrates that contain carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and other elements in trace amounts (4). Smoke emission from these domestic fuels is the major source of indoor pollution, especially in rural and poor urban communities. This smoke contains pollutants and particulates that adversely affect the health of women. It is reported that these pollutants are the major causes of chronic bronchitis and lung diseases (3). This prolonged smoke exposure associated with biomass usage also has a huge long-term effect on eyesight of women and infants. Studies have shown that wood, charcoal and dung produced unacceptable levels of indoor air pollution during cooking and baking. These findings also have shown that changing from biomass fuel to other types of energy (kerosene, and gas) without proper ventilation or control of smoke related emissions will not necessarily remove health risks in women (5). A further concern related to indoor pollution is the level of carbon monoxide production during cooking and baking. A report has shown that there is some evidence that carbon monoxide exposure result in higher fetal COHb (Carbon monoxide–hemoglobin interaction) (3). This has a greater effect for pregnant women that will result in a low birth weight and fetal damage due to carbon monoxide exposure (6).
As admirable as it is, fuel-efficient designs for cooking do not address these health effects, which will prolong the devastating health problems of women and their infants. If improvement in fuel efficiency is addressed, the health effect should be incorporated as part of any new design for cooking processes. Otherwise women and their infants will continue to suffer for the near future. Without exception in rural area, infants are cradled in the back of their mothers who are doing the daily gathering of fuel and the daily cooking and baking which exposes them to these harmful products.
4. Environmental Issues.
As discussed above, Injera baking is the most energy intensive process. It is reported that cooking and baking accounts for over 50% of all primary energy consumption in the country and 75% of the total energy consumed in households (7). The wide spread use of wood cutting for fuel is the primary cause of deforestation in Ethiopia. About 95% of the total energy consumption in Ethiopia mostly comes from biomass fuels. Historically Ethiopia was one of the “forest” rich nations in the world. In just the past 50 years the land covered by forest has dropped from approximately 50% to less than 3%. Some experts attribute this mostly to forest clearing for cultivation and cutting woods for fuel. The current rate of deforestation is estimated to be 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) per year (8). In fact a recent National Geographic Magazine stated that at the current rate of deforestation, Ethiopia could lose all its natural forest in 20 years (9). In some areas even small bushes now have to be used as firewood (10). As a result of this relentless deforestation large areas are now exposed to heavy soil erosion. In fact at this current rate of deforestation, it is estimated that fertile topsoil is lost at a rate of 1 billion cubic meters per year resulting in a massive environmental degradation and serious threat to sustainable forestry (8). Due to this forest degradation, increasing numbers of Ethiopians have become vulnerable to the effects of drought. The severity of the devastating droughts and the resulting famines in 1972/1973 and 1984/1985 can be attributed directly to an accelerated deforestation due to wood cutting for fuel and land clearing for cultivation. The continues wide spread practice of burning dung, burning crop residues for fuel, and deforestation for fuel wood will undoubtedly will increase and hasten the susceptibility of open land to erosion (11). Deforestation cannot be reduced without providing alternatives to the current way of cooking that also addresses related health issues. It is very important that what ever the alternatives are, they must provide better livelihood and sustained income generation to support the family. Otherwise the people will continue the status quo and continue this relentless deforestation that endangers their life and the eco-system beyond repair.
5. Current technologies.
One of the recent technologies that has been developed is the Mitre’ Stove that has been specifically designed to cook injera (7). This and related technologies have been developed to address the energy efficiency of the current method of baking injera. These technologies are directed to increase efficiency in a one- at- a- time process, which is the same process used currently, but they do not address the health issue. Even though these technologies are very important development, we think a step change in technology is necessary to improve and address the issues that were discussed above. A good example of this is what happened in the US in the early 1930s and 1940s when bread making was automated and was produced in a continuous process instead of baking bread at home one a time.
One of the difficulties in making injera baking a continuous process was its unique feature and its properties. Injera is unique in appearance and texture. It is one of the most delicate food items to automate due to its characteristics that include; “bubbly eye”, circular flat geometry, very elastic, smooth back surface and a fluffy texture. These unique properties require a thorough understanding of the “overall” injera making process, i.e., fermentation of the teff flour under controlled environment, viscosity of the batter, amount of batter per injera, the spreading of the batter to obtain the right geometry and thickness, the precise temperature at which the injera is cooked, and its removal from the cooking surface using a delicate removing mechanism. Even though the injera itself looks a simple product but, to make it, it requires very sophisticated and computer controlled process. This in mind, ZELFIWU Inc. has designed and manufactured the first automated “Injera making Machine” that can produce 500 units per hour (patent granted). This machine was installed at Maru Bakery in Dallas Texas, which is the only entity that operates this continuous automated process that manufactures this product for the past five years. The second generation ZELFIWU Inc machine is put in place in Washington DC in the summer of 2004 and produces 1000 units per hour 24 hours a day. Currently, in the United States, all Injera is made at home or in a facility that utilizes a “Circular Pan” made of clay or metal. This process is “time-consuming” a “one-at-a-time” production units, which tend to be inefficient. Due to this production mode, the variability from production to production of Injera has been a known fact, i.e., no two individuals will produce the same product at all times. This exact process is used in Ethiopia today. To make matters worse, majority of Ethiopians (in Ethiopia) traditionally cook over pans heated by biomass fuels. This has resulted in health problems and will severely impact the environment and undoubtedly has lead to deforestation and the consequence will be extended drought in the country. As mentioned above, one “ZELFIWU Inc” machine can produce 1000 unit per hour consistently and uniformly 24 hours a day using available electricity, which can be enough to feed up to 8,000 to 10,000 people. Therefore the Injera machine can easily be installed and operated wherever electric power is available. The Injera made using this technology has a shelf life of at least 5 to 6 days due to minimal contact by bare hand, which is another improvement over the old way of making Injera, which becomes moldy within 2 to 3 days of shelf life.
Dr. Wudneh Admassu
Professor of Chemical Engineering
E MAIL email@example.com
2. EASSER, Vol. XXI, no. 1 (January 2005).
3. Cecelski E. “Energy and rural women’s work”, International Review, 1987, 126(1): 41.
4. Chen BH et al, “Indoor pollution in developing countries”, World Health Quarterly, 1990, 43(3): 127.
5. Padey MR, Basnyat B, Neupane RP, “Chronic bronchitis in Nepal”, Monograph published by Mrigendra Medical Trust , Kathmandu, Nepal, 1988.
6. Behera D, Dash S, Yadav, SP, “Carboxyhaemoglobin in Women exposed to cooking fuels”, Thorax, 1991, 46:344.
9. National Geographic, September 2005
11. Tamirie Hawando, RALA Report, No.200, Norwegian Church, P.O.Box 101351, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia