Mushelekha is a traditional lye obtained from the ashes of burnt bean pods, dry maize cobs, sorghum husks, and banana peels. The ash or likoshe, as it is known in the Luhya language, is mixed with water and put in a traditional pot called lushelekho. The lushelekho has holes in it that allow clean mushelekha to slowly drip out. The filtrate, which is rich in potassium salt, is used to tenderizer tough vegetables, to improve flavor, and to preserve the green color of vegetables. Vegetables cooked in mushelekha are known to keep longer without spoiling. Using this lye also improves the texture of slimy vegetables. Mushelekha is used only with certain vegetables, such as cowpea, mitoo (Crotalaria spp.), murere (Corchorus olitorius), pumpkin leaves, and nderema (Basella alba). It is also used to cook meat and fish, as a tenderizer and to improve flavor. It is important to use the right quantity of mushelekha in order not to cause a burning sensation in the mouth and to avoid making the food too tender.
Mushelekha is a traditional product of the Luhya people of Western Kenya. They use it in dishes based on local vegetables. Mushelekha may be used in different ways: Usually a pot of water is placed on the fire to boil and the lye is added and boiled for a few minutes. Then vegetables are added and the pot is covered. The cooking vegetables are stirred to ensure even cooking and to avoid burning. Finally, salt is added to taste. Other ingredients may be added including groundnut paste, milk, cream, ghee, and animal fat. A second method of cooking using musheleka involves placing the pot containing water and vegetables on the fire and adding the mushelekha once the contents of the pot start boiling.
Mushelekha is becoming rare and is used only in rural areas of Western Kenya. Outside of these areas it is replaced with sodium bicarbonate, even though this product imparts a different texture and flavor to the vegetables to which it is added.