One of the traditional Nigerian delicacies simply known as “Okpa” has gained much popularity over the years, in the eastern part of the country, especially in Enugu State, despite the fact that the food Okpa, is largely grown in the North.
Okpa, which shares its name with its sole ingredient, Bambara nut, or Vigna Subterranean, is considered a complete food that provides almost all major nutrients to the body.
Okpa is normally prepared with salt, pepper and oil, using banana leaf to wrap, making it tasty and affordable.
Some researches revealed that Okpa has numerous health benefits which include; boosting the body iron and blood, healthy bones.
It is also said to reduce cholesterol in the blood and is very rich in carbohydrate and protein.
Some residents of Enugu metropolis, including Mr. Paul Ike-Okoro, Goodness Kalu, Chinedu Ugwu and Chinenye Chiwetelu described it as delicious.
According to Mr. Paul Ike-Okoro, “in fact I call it delicacy because each time I come to buy it I have fulfillment after eating the Okpa.”
“It’s a local food, it’s affordable and nutritious,” Goodness Kalu said.
In the words of Chinedu Ugwu, “it is delicious and proteinous (sic), I like it.”
For Chinenye Chiwetelu, “Okpa is one tasty, affordable, notorious meal that we have.”
From observation, Okpa appeals to all classes of people in the society and this means that any eventual health problem associated with the food would be very devastating.
It was originally wrapped with banana or other natural leaves when being cooked.
In recent times, however, those preparing this delicacy (Okpa) use cellophane or nylon bags to wrap it, in place of the banana leaf.
Although much have not been said or known about the health implications of using banana leaf to wrap Okpa, there is fear that wrapping the delicacy with carcinogenic materials could spell doom in the future.
A nutritionist, Mrs. Frances Ekechukwu, said cellophane contains harmful chemicals called dioxine considered as detrimental to the body.
“These dioxins refer to a group of toxic chemical compounds that are made up of carbon, oxygen, hydro carbon and chlorine.
“This toxic compound is released into food from heated cellophane bags and the toxicity level can cause cancer, birth defects, inability to maintain pregnancy, reduced sperm counts, decrease in fertility, learning inability,” Mrs. Ekechukwu explained.
Mrs. Ekechukwu advised consumers of the food against eating the one stored with cellophane bags to avoid diseases including cancer, kidney and stomach problems.
Also, a health expert, Dr. Adam Dawud, of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Abuja explained that cellophane when used to wrap hot food, allowed the chemical used in producing the nylon to permeate the food.
“These nylons are formed after some heating processes, so by the time you heat, the nylon will now start librating some chemicals that were formed to make them and those chemicals will enter the food and become infectious when someone injects them.
“The use of nylon bags, it has actually been associated with causing cancer, especially cancer of the liver and they are also incriminated causing kidney problems.”
Dr. Dawud maintained that using porcelain materials, foil or leaves were safer than the cellophane and advised people to be conscious of what they ate.
A medical doctor practicing in Canada, Dr. Ruben Ezeaka, warned that people should be mindful of what was used to prepare the Okpa before buying it.
“Most of the materials they use in making the nylon are carcinogenic, so we should avoid cooking nylon on fire or in the pot, talkless of (sic) people using it to wrap okpa; let’s use our natural leaves to do it.”
Most of the lovers of the delicacy interviewed, claimed ignorant of the dangers of using cellophane to wrap Okpa.
However some of them who were told the health implications of using nylon to wrap Okpa said they would begin to go for the ones covered with leaves.
The respondents called for full investigation into the matter by the federal ministry of health and a possible ban on the use of cellophane to wrap Okpa and similar products.