Food Habits of Kenya

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Diet and dishes

Diet and dishes among different ethnical groups of Kenya

Staple food
Supplemented food
Food preferences
Infant & children food
Luo* Mtama
(Sorghum bicolora)
Wimbi (Swahili)
red millet
Sweet potatoes
Green maize
Man and women
consumed the same
Avoided the meat of sheep, elephant, rhinoceros,
to eat forbidden
meats was less for elderly
compared to
young women

"Irio" means food

1. A porridge made of
maize, legumes and plantains (cooking bananas)

2. A gruel
made from millet flour
and water (beverage)
1. and 2. were eaten by both men and women

Corn cobs
Sweet potatoes
Women's irio contained in addition to the men's food:
Green leaves and salt or salt substitute
Different from the ordinary ucuru is "mukiro", a gruel exclusively made for women which had
salt or salt substitute added;
Women's dishes were distinguished by containing green leaves, special millet varieties, salt or salt
Pregnancy and lactation:
Varieties of red millet called "mugimbi" and "mwimbe" were
particularly consumed, which were highly esteemed as a lactifacient.
This varieties of red millet had an average
14 times higher calcium content as well as 16 times as much manganese compared to other species;

Older women or women who gave birth to a child ate meat occasionally;

"Tembo" -beer
was a very important
part of the diet

1. Marua - maize or millet
2. Njohi - sugar cane
3. Uki - Honey beet

Children dishes:
muthura, mtama (grain) eaten unground and boiled and kiroiga, mtama meal cooked with magadi soda;

Muhia, the most widely grown sorghum used unground, boiled and mixed with green leaves, this dish was called muthura and it was only eaten by children and women;

Kikuyu coast

"Sima", porridge made out of maize, brown rice
(own grown), plantain;
Legumes (kunde, podzo)
Meat (stewed beef or goat)
Fish or shark (boiled)
Prawns or chicken
Coconut (ground, soaked in
water wrung out, called tui)
Bananas (boiled, raw, fried in ghee)
Sweet potatoes (roasted in
ashes or boiled)
Unusual items:
Cassava (boiled, roasted),
Ground nuts, Chashew nuts


Kiuambu district

Introduced staple foods:

European potato: The porridge "irio"
was more often made of mashed european
potatoes which added a lot of bulk to the diet;
Wheat for chapaties,
European bread

Introduced beverages:

Local beverages
Beer made out of sugar cane "Njohi" or honey beer;

Women's food

Muhia, the most widely grown sorghum
used unground, boiled and mixed with green leaves, this dish was called "muthura" and only eaten by women;

Njahe, usual variety of black beans was consumed after child birth until the child was 6 month old; Njahe bean had a
higher calcium content compared to other legumes;

Elderly women
cosumed njahe, a
black bean variety which had a very high calcium content;
It was Kikuyu custom that beer should be only drunk by elders;

Banana pulp was
given from 3 years on;

Unripe pulp was baked
then chewed by the mother
until soft;
Infant was fed from mother's lips;
This originated from shortage of milk: infants on that diet suffered by gastro-enteritis and hardly put
weight on;

Sugar cane was chewed by children;

Samburu***** Milk (especially for the for males)
Vegetables played a minor
Maize -meal rarely eaten by
males above eight years old
Blood was of minor role, only used during dry season;
Roots and tubers which also were of medicinal value;

Elders drank: less milk
but they consumed more meat than boys or

Honey beer
was a popular, while tea,
and sugar were luxuries
among the elders

Brest feeding after birth, supplementary feeding with
milk started a week later;

At about 18 month meat was introduced;

Afterwards meat
and milk formed natural diet;





Resin from several trees
Shrubs are eaten as a snack
by women, boys, girld in

©Maryam Imbumi

©Maryam Imbumi

*Callanan, J. (1926). "Notes on the foodstuffs of the Luo tribes." Kenyan Medical Journal 3: 58-60.
**Orr, J. and J. Gilks (1931). "The physique and health of two African tribes." Medical Research Council Special Report Series No. 155.
***Allen, K. W. (1955). "The monotonous diet of the African." E.A. Med J 32: 95.
****Farnworth Anderson, T. (1937). "Kikuyu diet." The East African Medical Journal 14: 120-131.
*****Shaper, A. and P. Spencer (1961). "Physical activity and dietary patterns in the Samburu of northern Kenya." Tropical and geographical medicine 13: 237-281.
******Imbumi, M., H. Saitabu, et al. (2005). Maasai traditional foods: A look at diets in the Maasai culture. 18th International congress of Nutrition, ICC, Durban, South Africa, Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism.

A big acknowledgement to Maryam Imbumi for sharing her amazing research discoveries with us.

Reprinted from Imbumi, M., H. Saitabu, et al. (2005). Maasai traditional foods: A look at diets in the Maasai culture. 18th International congress of Nutrition, ICC, Durban, South Africa, Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, Copyritght 2005, with permission from Imbumi, M. with support of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), the Survey of Economic Plants of Arid and Semi-arid Lands (SEPASAL) web-based Database (at KEW GARDENS).

The diet of the Luo

Staple foods

The staple food of the Luo was the kuon, the Swahili name for "ugali". It was made out of mtama flour (Sorghum bicolora) which was mixed with water and boiled until a doughy substance was formed. When the mtama grain was scarce, sweet potatoes and beans were the main staples of the Luo diet and mtama was only used as the basic ingredient of gruel. When green maize was in season, boiled corn on the cob formed the main meal. Old maize was mixed with beans.

Kuon was eaten together with meat, native vegetables, buttermilk (buyo), blood, fish, chicken or eggs.

Wimbi (kal), a millet variety, chiefly used by the Luo tribe who lived near the Kisii border, was cooked and eaten in the same way as mtama.

Beans (oganda) were only popular mixed together with maize (oduma) which was called nyoyo. Small beans (ngor) were used alone or with nyoyo. Furthermore it was common to mix the small beans with ungrounded mtama (oinjore). The mixture of small beans with ungrounded mtama or if mixed with maize was called choroko (olayo).

Sweet potatoes (rabuon) were boiled and eaten with buttermilk

Two common gruels among the Luo:

1. The first gruel was made of mtama flour (mogo), (Sorghum bicolora) and wimbi (millet variety) flour. They were both mixed with water or buttermilk to which cow's urine was added.
2. Nyuka was made out of ground wimbi, placed in an earthenware vessel and warm water was added. The sour gruel was drunk the following morning after the mixture was allowed to stand over night.

PDF: Notes on the foodstuffs of the Luo tribes

Diet of Kikuyu communities

Nutrition survey and campaign against malnutrition in Kenya_1964 to 1968

The WHO carried out a survey from 1964 to 1968 to estimate the nutrition problems during this period of time. This report will provide you with a lot of data and information on:

Dietary surveys:

  • Agriculture and food consumption data
  • Consumption of nutrients and calories according to the different provinces
  • Protein consumption according to the different provinces food pattern
  • Food purchase
  • Comparison of nutritive value of diets and "wealth" of families
  • Infant feeding

PDF: Nutrition survey and campaign against malnutrition in Kenya_1964 to 1968

The Girama, a coastal Kikuyu tribe

The diet of the coastal Kikuyu tribe consisted of a bulky starchy mass (called: sima or wali) which was rolled by the fingers and dipped into a sauce or stew (kitoweo). This publication highlights the diet of the coast tribe, the Giriama:

PDF: The monotonous diet of the African

Kikuyu and Masai diet

This article provides the following information:

  • Description and comparison of the daily diet among the Kikuyu and Masai tribe
  • Data on average daily food intake on adult male Kikuyu
  • Data on Comparison of probable average daily intake of dietary constituents by Kikuyu and Masai
  • Average diet of Masai male warrior class
  • Average diet of Masai women and males

PDF: Medical research council-special report series No, 155_1931

The old Kikuyu diet

The following two references provide you with data and information on

  • Indigenous, traditional and introduced foods and their cooking and preparation methods
  • Average food intake per annum per head
  • Which foods were available at the Kikuyu markets? What did Kikuyu consume in the past?

PDF: Kikuyu diet
PDF: The Kikuyu market and Kikuyu diet

Othaya and Githenguri dietary survey 1962

From April to June in 1962 the WHO carried out a clinical nutrition survey in Othaya and Githenguri.

The article below provides you with data and information on:

  • Description on meal patterns
  • Types and amounts of foods consumed
  • Average size of portion of each different food consumed
  • Data on the percentage source of nutrients from the food groups
  • Total nutrient intake and average requirements for:
    Vitamin A
    Vitamin C

PDF: Othaya and Githenguri survey_1962

What is the right diet for the African?

What are carrier crops and which was the biggest experiment in native labour in Africa?
The full notes of the opening discussion on native diets by Dr. C. J. Wilson of the meeting of the Kenyan branch of the British Medical Association which was held in Nairobi on June 10th 1925 highlights the investigations into the above raised questions.

PDF: Native diets


Created by Verena Raschke 2005 / Contact