Anchote is the Afan Oromo name for Coccinia abyssinica, which is a drought resistant tuber crop indigenous to Ethiopia, originating particularly in the Oromia Region. There are about ten species of Coccinia in Ethiopia; however, only Coccinia abyssinica is cultivated for human consumption. Though it is a major traditional food crop of the area, it is not known in other parts of the world. Anchote grows at altitudes ranging from 1300 to 2800 meters above sea level where the annual rainfall is 762-1016 mm. The total yield of anchote is 150-180 quintals per hectare, similar to sweet potatoes and regular potatoes. One of the desirable qualities of anchote as a tuber crop is its good keeping quality. The tubers can be stored in an underground pit and retrieved when needed, providing food security in times of other crop failures. Flour made from sun-dried ground tubers also keeps well. Anchote tubers usually reach a harvestable stage within four to five months from planning, depending on environmental conditions. The parts that are harvested are the fruits for seed propagation and the tubers to be used as a vegetable after being boiled or otherwise cooked. Anchote is a valuable food source with multiple medicinal qualities. It contains high quantities of nutrients like crude fiber, protein, calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium, which is rare in other tuber crops. According to local farmers, it helps in fast mending of broken bones and displaced joints. Due to its good vitamin A content, consumption of anchote may also help to reduce the problem of vitamin A deficiency. Traditionally, it is also believed that anchote makes lactating mothers healthier and stronger. Flour made from the tuber may be used as a supplementary food for infants and young children. Furthermore, juice prepared from anchote tubers has saponin as an active substance and is used to treat gonorrhea, tuberculosis, and tumors. Like other tubers, anchote is rarely eaten raw. It undergoes some form of domestic processing and cooking before consumption. The roots are cleaned then boiled (either with or without being peeled) and further cooked with butter and spices like coriander, sweet basil, ginger, garlic and salt. Cooked anchote is served usually with kochkocha (“green pepper paste”), a fermented side dish prepared from ground green pepper with green leafy varieties. A stew locally called ittoo anchote (“anchote sauce”) solely from sliced anchote and a good amount of butter and another local dish called lanqaxaa are both prepared for festive occasions, such as weddings, birthdays, circumcisions and religious celebrations. Oromo women are fundamental to maintaining anchote cultivation. They work as breeders of the plant, select growing sites, tend to the plants and determine when to harvest. They also process the tubers and decide what to sell and how to use the money received in return. This means that anchote’s importance goes beyond economics, and that the crop is also of very high social importance. However, the fact that this crop, with all its nutritional, medical and food security advantages, is known in very few areas limits its ability to be sold to a wider audience. If promoted in neighboring areas, anchote could play a crucial role in improving the economic and nutritional conditions of both growers and consumers.
Image: © Serena Milano