A New, Convenient and Easy Way to Wash Bitter Leaves

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Rolling out big mortars from the kitchen to the yard or balcony (depending on whether we were in the village or city); bruised knuckles from repeatedly rubbing my hands against the mortar; several visits to the room with a small sample of bitter leaf to ask my elder sister ‘O chalaa?’, ‘Is it done?’ – those are the memories I have of washing bitter leaves as a child. Sometimes, my siblings and I took turns doing the cycles, which could be as many as eight. We would swirl and knead the leaves to get rid of the bitterness and then squeeze to extract excess water. We would dispose of the dirty water, add fresh water to the mortar, and repeat the process all over again. Watching the first suds appear; seeing the water turn from black to green and finally clear; and watching the suds disappear gradually all brought some relief that progress was being made. We would spread the leaves out in the sun before washing them. This helped them wilt a tad and less brittle and prevented breakage during washing. The swirling and kneading also had to be done gently to ensure the end product remained in long strands. Sometimes, we added palm kernel or oil to reduce the suds so that we could concentrate on the task of removing the bitterness in an otherwise magnificent leaf. Buying prewashed leaves from the market was out of the question. They came in shreds and still had some bitter taste. Bringing the leaves to a boil could help reduce the bitterness but that wasn’t welcomed in my house.

I always knew that sooner rather than later, someone would come up with an idea of how to make the task easier. But each time I googled for an alternative, I saw only the old-fashioned way. I wondered how the kids we have these days with their penchant for easy life and short attention span can withstand doing a mundane chore that takes more than an hour. For instance, I read of some Nigerian teenagers whose mum traveled and on a particular day their mum’s friend dropped by to see them, they hadn’t had lunch by 4pm. They were waiting for PHCN to bring power so that they could microwave their soup and boil water in the electric jug for their eba. Whatever happened to cooking on stove top?

Someone had always told me that a little modification of the washing machine would produce an invention that could wash bitter leaves. But from what I learnt few days ago, people aren’t waiting for that modification. We visited an amazing family and our hosts, after giving us some fresh bitter leaves, showed us the new way they wash ‘onugbu’ – a portable washing machine that is designed for washing clothes. The brand they showed us was from Basecamp.

When I got home, I looked through the internet to see if the idea was already popular in Nigeria. It appeared it wasn’t. The only related information was a thread on Nairaland where someone listed inventing a bitter leaf washing machine as one way one could get rich. I found however that using washing machine to wash leaves was becoming a trend among people in the western world. They use it to wash collard green, a slightly bitter vegetable. Some use the same machine they use for their clothes for their vegetables but I won’t recommend that, for hygienic reasons. Besides, there were reports that fragments of leaves were left inside the machine afterwards and that they transfer to clothes that are subsequently washed. There were suggestions that the sanitation problem can be cured by using chlorine to run an empty cycle before washing the greens and doing same afterwards to remove whatever debris and smell the green could transfer to clothes. There were also recommendations to use the machine’s delicate wash setting and only do the rinse and spin cycle to reduce shredding of the leaves. Our hosts had said the leaves don’t come out in long stands, I guess the way Nigerians like it.

Given how pricey it is ($100-$150), it is unlikely the portable machine will soon replace mortars in most household for washing bitter leaves. There’s is also the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (they sure can hold power) to worry about. Nonetheless this creative use of the washing machine will come in handy for people who sell prewashed bitter leaves for a living since they produce it in large quantities. Those of them in the US are already doing that. Middle and upper class Nigerian families, they are growing by the day, can readily afford it too. They already use electric blenders to puree coco yams for ‘ofe ede’. One more gadget that removes the other difficult task will be welcomed so that they can cook the flavorful but time-consuming soup more often.

Finally, if you are looking for a business idea, how about taking up the task of working with washing machine manufacturers to produce a simpler and more affordable device that is more suitable for washing leaves? There is a huge market for it in Nigeria. Who knows how rich you can become?

Please let me know your thoughts on this creative use of the washing machine.

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12 thoughts on “A New, Convenient and Easy Way to Wash Bitter Leaves

  1. I used a an extractor juicing machine for the bitter leaves . I first chopped them like any vegetable , passed them through the extractor . Got the first pure bitter leaf juice . I added water the chaff to rinse them further. The Juice can be used for drinking (medicinal ) and the washed stuff for vegetable . Though in Uganda here we dont eat bitter leaf. We have enough vegatable variety . This method is a lot easier the any other method.

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    • Thank you James for this tip. Please what brand of extractor do you use and how affordable is it? Though this post doesn’t have comments, my blog stats show that there is always at least one person reading it almost everyday, that is, people who found it through google search. So further enlightenment from you will be very helpful. Thank you, once again.

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      • They are many Juicers in the market .Philips Juicers are very good . the range from US$100 to US$ 250. It will do miracles for you . Other brands from Japan like NIKAI are available and cheaper . N.B Juicers are different from Blenders .

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      • This Philips juicer extracts even more juice from your fruit and vegetables. Cleaning has never been easier thanks to the innovative quick clean sieve and integrated pulp container. … The Philips juicer is designed for easy cleaning . The Bitter Lean Pulp can be dried or used immediately for cooking.

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      • Fresh water can be added to the bitter leaf chaff /pulp from the juicer-extractor , to rinse for more juice or to wash for cooking purposes. Shalom,

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          • The ” WASHING OF BITTER LEAVES ” was very confusing to me . It seems it is a local experession in Nigeria . Washing a vegetable to me was like just run tap water through it but seems it meant LIKE HAND WASHING LAUNDRY…… Kneading and twisting . Apparently they same process is used in the villages here. Run to the supermarket and buy that Juicer. HAPPY VALENTINES DAY .

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            • Yes, in Nigeria, we wash them the way you wash laundry with hands and we do as many as seven or more cylces. ‘Olugbu’ is a very bitter leaf which if not washed long enough will mar the taste of an otherwise well-prepared soup. So I’m a little concerned juicers may not do the work unless one does up to ten cycles. It doesn’t hurt to try though. Thank you once again.

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              • Try semi automatic washing machine. That one will serve Nigerian market… Demand. On Feb 14, 2016 4:46 PM, “Anne Mmejes Blog” wrote:

                > annemmeje commented: “Yes, in Nigeria, we wash them the way you wash > laundry with hands and we do as many as seven or more cylces. ‘Olugbu’ is a > very bitter leaf which if not washed long enough will mar the taste of an > otherwise well-prepared soup. So I’m a little concerned ju” >

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  2. Anne
    I cook very quickly these days and i love bitterleaves but the long process of squeezing out the bitterness in the leaves made me abandone cooking leaves soup.

    However, one evening i came home and i wanted to eat bitterleaves soup so dearly. I had sockfish, goat meat, egusi etc so I had no choice than to think of a quicker way of getting the bitterness out. I have been away from Nigeria since 1980 but I still remember how to prepare a nice Nugeria soup.

    So i decided to pluck some bitterleaves from the back of my garden in Philippines. I quickly boiled them twice and then rinse them. I cut them into the usual pieces and put them in a strainer. I ran cold water through the pieces and then just press the rest of the juice out.

    All these took only 20 minutes while my pressure cooker was cooking the stockfish and the goat meat.

    Try it. It’s wonderful.

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    • Thank you,Engineer Onuoha. Nice tip. I hope Nigerian engineers would one day invent a machine for washing bitter leaves. This post on how to wash bitter leaves is very popular on my blog.

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