Antonio Magnaghi is the proprietor of Euro Ingredients Limited. He is a gastronomist and food application process technologist who helps develop innovative orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) products and equipment for their production. Magnaghi spoke to Christine Bukania and Lilies Gachanja about working with the International Potato Center (CIP) to diversify OFSP processing and utilization and gave them some tips on the right way to cook and process OFSP roots.
What exactly does your work entail and what are you currently doing?
I design processing facilities for the food production industry and assist people in developing products. Currently, I am working with CIP to design OFSP facilities and products and I mainly design facilities to produce puree (a smooth thick pulp of cooked OFSP put through a blender or strainer). We are also working on product development. I have worked in Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Mozambique, as well as Kenya and I am looking forward to working in Ethiopia shortly. I just returned from Mozambique where we were training people – mostly chefs – on how to make bread, cakes, cookies and juice and other products out of OFSP.
Out of all these countries, which one do you think is picking up the most?
Mozambique and Kenya are picking up the most, while Rwanda is quite ahead and already has commercialized products like cookies and juice. The interest is growing because people are seeing the business potential. They are taking advantage of OFSP since it can help them reduce the amount of wheat flour used in recipes and thus cut costs. What most people still do not understand is that the sweetpotato is a functional ingredient. What that means is that it acts like a stabilizer in some of the products, so you can actually cut down on your import of ingredients like gums and starches. The other part of the sweetpotato most people are not paying attention to is the color. You see, orange is a natural color that is in high demand and very expensive.
How did you get into partnership with CIP?
It was a chance encounter. A CIP representative from Rwanda, Dr. Sindi Kirimi, was looking for equipment to make cookies in Rwanda. When he inquired about the equipment in a Tuskys supermarket, where I consult in terms of food processing and innovations, he was told, “you need to speak to Antonio. He can solve your problems because he is the one who designed our systems.” Dr. Kirimi asked me to find him equipment, which I did. That was the beginning of a working relationship that keeps on evolving.
During the 2016 Marketing, Processing and Utilization Community of Practice (MPU CoP) annual meeting in Dar-es-Salaam, you trained chefs on how to cook OFSP dishes. Could you explain that activity?
Being a member of the MPU CoP, one of my roles is providing technical backstopping in terms of processing and technical development of products. During the last meeting, we trained chefs to use sweetpotato in different dishes and sauces. We focused on Italian potato dumplings, whose normal recipe contains flour, normal Irish potato and an egg. With sweetpotato, we eliminated the egg and used more sweetpotato than flour. We also prepared sweetpotato wedges, which is actually toasting, sautéing and then baking the sweetpotato in an oven. This helps to cut down on fat absorption and also ensures the freshness of the root while also enhancing the taste. We shallow fry the wedges to get the seasoning up and then bake them because the texture is quite fine. This ensures that the sweetpotato retains moisture and crispiness.
People know that you get juice from citrus fruits or probably vegetables. I demonstrated to the members of the MPU CoP how to make juice from OFSP roots so as to get the maximum flavor out of it. Sweetpotato tends to oxidize. This means that there is a tendency to darken. I demonstrated how to prepare what we call an anti-oxidant solution. The preparation involves mixing water with vitamin C and dipping the sweetpotatoes into the solution to stop oxidization. After blending, you squeeze out the juice, which we call concentrate. After that, you cook it to get the flavor, because the starch is carried forward and gelatinization process takes place in the presence of heat. This is important, otherwise you will end up with the taste of raw roots. I also taught people how to use spices like ginger and cinnamon to mask the earthiness of the sweetpotato taste.
How did people receive these products?
I was surprised to see people coming back for more and more. I did not expect that people would actually enjoy it because of the flavor. Everyone, including the hotel staff, was quite impressed and they were looking to adopt OFSP. The chefs realized that they could make a better, more nutritious product and cut costs. It is quite encouraging when people learn that they have a product in their backyard they can use.
Do you think sweetpotato juice is something that has commercial potential?
Yes. Actually there is something we have developed with a local franchise in Kenya. There is a drink Kenyans call ‘dawa’ which is made of honey, ginger and lemon. However, people are not getting the benefit because it is composed of too much water. We are launching a similar product called OFSP blend soon. It will be made out of sweetpotato juice and it can be consumed either hot or cold. It is better in terms of the use and benefit, as it is higher in vitamin A and has a better taste.
When cooking OFSP, which is the best way to go about it?
With sweetpotato products, the best thing is to work with unpeeled roots. You not only retain nutritional benefits from the skin but it also brings processing costs down because no peeling is involved. The cooking method is fundamental. If you do not get that right, the rest of the process will go wrong. For products made using mashed sweetpotato or puree, you should steam the root so that it does not absorb too much water, otherwise it becomes soggy, gelatinizes quickly and loses the taste. If you want to process concentrate, you must ensure that you have a good antioxidant solution.