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You are here: Home Clinical Topics Nutrition The Traditional Foods of the Central Ethiopian Highlands (research report no. 7)

The Traditional Foods of the Central Ethiopian Highlands (research report no. 7)

Author(s): Ruth Selinus from the Scandinavian Institute of African Studies
Date Authored: January 01, 1971


Ethiopia differs in many respects from the remainder of tropical Africa, both in natural scenery and in culture. The topography of the country varies from high mountains and great plateaus 2000 - 3000 metres above sea-level to grasslands, jungles and deserts. Various ethnic groups, predominantly Hamitic and Semitic, speaking different languages, populate this vast country.

Like people in other parts of the world, each tribe in Ethiopia has its own beliefs and attitudes relating to foods. Some of these are related to foods and diseases, others to qualities, such as hot and cold or light and heavy foods. Food may be graded as dangerous for certain individuals or in certain situations. If a child develops any kind of upset at the time when a supplementary food is being introduced, it is only natural that the illness should be attributed to that food, especially if it is a gastro-intestinal upset. Some foods are endowed with special prestige.

The following introduction is based on studies carried out as part of an applied nutrition program within the framework of the Children's Nutrition Unit (now transformed into the Ethiopian Nutrition Institute (1). The studies were carried out in widely different parts of Ethiopia, and included the major ethnic groups (Amahara, Oromo & Tigre) and also took account of seasonal variations.

Food Items

Plant origin

Cereals. The most important cereals are tef, corn, sorghum, barley wheat and millet. Tef is native to Ethiopia and a number of varieties are available. The most common are white (nech), red (geyy) and a mixture of these two (sergegna). The kind of tef most preferred is white tef. In order to get the bread as white as possible, upper-class families may wash the seeds several times.

Corn, sorghum, barley and wheat are grown at different altitudes and are used instead of or together with tef. Emmer Wheat (Triticum dicoccum) is a cereal recognized as a suitable food for children. Millet is used in part of the region, mainly for the local beer.

Legumes. The next group of importance is legumes, the most common being chickpeas, field peas, lentils and broad beans. The legumes are used in the sauce (wot) whole, split or as flour, but are sometimes toasted whole (golo) and eaten as a snack with coffee.

Vegetables. Onions (mainly red onions) are grown in large areas and used in huge quantities. Kale (yabesha gommen) is the next vegetable of importance. It is cheap and is available for most of the year. Pumpkins and green chickpeas are used when available. Cauliflower, cabbage, red beets, tomatoes, etc. are grown mainly for consumption by foreigners.

Tubers. Potato (Solanum tuberosum), sweet potatoes (Impomoea batatas) and in the Oromo communities Oromo potatoes (Coleus edulis) are used in the staple diet.

Spices. Spices play an important role in most countries in Asia and Africa, and Ethiopia is no exception. Some of the spices are grown in Ethiopia, either cultivated or wild, and others are imported, mainly from India. The most important spices are chili and bird's-eye chili. These are used in the spice mixtures berberre and mitmitta.

Fruit. Fruit is not grown in large quantities in the central highlands. The most common fruits are lemons and bananas. Of less importance are pawpaw and orange.

Oilseeds are important cash crops. Niger flax, sunflowers and safflowers are grown in large areas. Most of the oilseeds are used for producing oil, and the oilseed cakes are exported for cattle feeding.

Foods of animal origin

Milk. The amount of milk per cow is small. Fresh milk is mainly given to small children. From milk is prepared sour milk, butter and low-fat sour-milkcheese (ayib) (see below).

Meat. The meat of the cow, sheep or goat is eaten in the staple diet. Wealthy families can afford to serve this kind of food often but the majority of the population are poor and can serve meat only on ceremonial occasions, such as religious feasts. For big feasts the cow's meat is served raw immediately after the animal is killed. The raw meat is spiced with the spice mixture mitmitta or awaze (see below).

Chicken are common, but the eggs are mainly kept for sale, and the chicken are killed for big feasts.

Fish. Tilapia and Nile perch are available in the lakes. Fish is of very little importance in the staple diet, because of the poor transportation system.

Staple Foods

Preparation of grains

Tef. The grains are small (1000 grains weigh 0.3 - 0.4 g) and the foreign particles are removed by winnowing. The grains are contaminated with soil by the threshing procedure, and the large soil particles are picked out by hand.

Barley. The grains are soaked in hot water for 5 minutes, pounded in wooden mortars and left in the sun to dry. The husks are blown away. The grains are again pounded slightly, left to dry and the remaining husks are blown away. This procedure wastes about 15 % of the crop.

Emmer wheat. The grains are cleaned with the help of a sefied (straw plate) and foreign particles are removed by hand. After drying in the sun, the grains are pounded in wooden mortars and the husks are blown away. By this process about 25% of the initial weight is lost.

The grinding of grains can either be done between two stones in the home or in the local mill, which nowadays is more and more common. This milling process gives an extraction rate of about 90- 95%.

Preparation of Enjera

Enjera is a thin, pancake-like, sour, leavened bread, which can be made of either tef, corn, sorghum, barley or a mixture of two or three of these, depending on which is the main crop in the area. Enjera has been prepared since at least 100 B.C. The way in which it is prepared differs according to the type of cereal, the altitude, and the temperature. Investigations were carried out in different areas, among some ethnic groups, as shown in the following table:

  Ethnic Group Altitude (m) Monthly mean temp. (C)
1. Ijajai (Shoa) Oromo + Amhara 1600 18-23
2. Makalle (Tigre) Tigre 2170 16-20
3. Addis Ababa Gurage + Amhara 2340 15-18
4. Gondar (Begemder) Koumant 3000 10-16

Tef enjera. The flour is mixed with water to form a dough and kneaded by hand. A leaven (ersho) is added. The leaven can be obtained in different ways, for example, a small amount of the previous enjera dough may be saved for the next dough or the bowl may be left uncleaned after the dough is made and the small quantity left will be sufficient for leavening. If no enjera leaven is available, one can use the local beer (tella).

The enjera is allowed to ferment for 1-5 days. Most often 3 days of fermentation are allowed, but, if time is scarce, the dough is fermented for only 1 or 2 days. The long-fermented enjera will give a better sourer taste and look nicer.

During the fermentation period a top layer consisting of mould and a yellow liquid appears. The custom is to remove this in order to get an enjera with a nice texture. Poor people cannot afford to throw this away. The liquid can also be used as a leaven.

A small part of the dough is added to boiling water and this mixture is stirred until it starts to boil again, after which the whole mixture (called absit) is added to the enjera dough. This gives the dough the right fermentation before baking starts. More water is added, if necessary. About 30 minutes afterwards the baking can start. The pH value of the dough is 4.0-5.0.

In the northern part of the country (at a higher altitude) the preparation of the enjera differs, in that the flour is toasted lightly on the mitad and the clay container with the dough is put in the warm ash or in the sunshine for a few hours, in order to start the fermentation process. The time for fermentation is 4-5 days.

At lower altitudes the toasted flour and water is made into a thick dough, which is left to ferment for 1-2 days. Hot water is then added to obtain a thin dough, which is ready for baking.

Barley enjera is made in the Tigre Begemder and Arussi Province. In Tigre the preparation does not differ much from the preparation of the tef enjera.

In Begemder Province, where an investigation was carried out among the Koumant ethnic group in the highlands 30 kilometres north of Gondar, the barley enjera is prepared in a somewhat different way. After grinding the barley, the rough part of the grain is mixed with water to form a thick dough, which is made into small balls stored in the husks of barley (for about 2 weeks) or until they are reddish inside (wokena). When making enjera, half of one wokena is added, in addition to the usual leaven. The dough is fermented for 4 days, boiling water is added and the dough is allowed to rise before baking.

Corn enjera in the Oromo communities in Shoa Province is made in a different way, as far as investigation shows. The corn is crushed between stones, and hot water is added to form a thick dough. This dough is fermented during the day and after that the dough is kneaded twice between stones, and water is added to obtain the desired consistence of the dough, which is then baked.

In the Arussi Province the corn flour is mixed with water and allowed to stand overnight. In the morning the dough is kneaded twice, the leaven and water are added until the dough takes on the right consistence and the dough is allowed to ferment for 1 day.

Baking. The enjera pan (mitad) is made of clay and has a diameter of 45-60 cm. The mitad is heated and cleaned with a piece of cloth. The pan is greased with kale and rape seeds. The dough is put on the pan in a circular shape, forming a thin cake, which is first baked without a cover for about 45-60 seconds. After that the cover is put on and the bread is baked on one side. The total baking time for one enjera is 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 minutes. The temperature in the middle of the enjera during the baking process was found to be 88-90 degrees C. The weight of one tef enjera is 350-450 g and of one corn enjera 400-500 g.

The bread is removed from the fire with the help of a straw plate and allowed to cool down. After the baking is finished, some rape seeds are put on the mitad until the next time for baking. Enjera can be kept for 3-4 days.

Nutritive value of enjera. Lysine is the first limiting amino acid in tef, as in all cereals. During the fermentation process some lysine is destroyed and a large percentage is dissolved in the yellow top layer, which is often thrown away. Therefore the nutritive value of the enjera is further decreased, as compared with that of the cereal (2). About 10% of the thiamine is destroyed during baking. The high iron content is mainly due to contamination from the iron-rich soil (3); the availability of this iron fraction is probably low. The increase in riboflavin during the fermention process is about 5%. However, part of the riboflavin is dissolved in the top layer, which is thrown away.

Tef flour contains 180 mg of phytic phosphorus per 100 g on a dry basis and the enjera 20 mg/100 g on a dry basis (4). Owing to the fermentation process, the amount of phytic phosphorus decreased by 80%, which shows that there is a considerable destruction of phytic acid.

Kita is a bread made of whole-grain flour. It can either be leavened or unleavened. The leavened bread is fermented for a few hours. Kita is baked as a thick bread on the clay mitad at low heat and turned after being baked on one side.

Wot and allicha

In those parts of Ethiopia where enjera is a staple food, it is seldom eaten separately. Occasionally it may be eaten as a snack with coffee in the morning, if nothing else is available. Very poor people may eat enjera with berberre for a meal. But most often enjera and sauce are eaten together. When one asks about the menu for a meal, the answer is often simply enjera, because it is understood that sauce will accompany the enjera. It may be a geyy wot (most often called wot) or allicha wot (most often called allicha). The main ingredients for these sauces are legumes, meat, fish, chicken, vegetables or tubers. Onion, fat (oil or butter), salt and spices are also added. The spice mixture berberre (see below) is used in the geyy wot and green pepper and tumeric in the allicha wot. The recipes and the preparation of the wot and allicha differ from place to place and between the different ethnic groups. Tradition, religion, economic and social situations play important roles.

The Ethiopians prefer to eat the wot or allicha with large quantities of fat (oil during the fasting days for the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians). A wot for a feast should have a top layer of fat. Wealthy people also prepare the wot or allicha with large amounts of protein-rich food, meat, chicken or legumes. A wot or allicha for poor people will be more watery with less fat (mainly oil) or no fat and smaller quantities of the protein-rich food. These families will also mainly serve dishes prepared with legumes, vegetables or tubers, as they cannot afford to buy meat or chicken.

Because of the poor transportation system, the consumtion of fish is low. Therefore the nutritive values of the dishes show great variations as between different groups in the Ethiopian community (2). The traditional food is served in a mesop, which is a kind of basket made of straw. The enjeras are placed on top of each other in the mesop, most often one per adult person. The sauce is placed in the centre of the enjera. During feasts several wot and allicha are served for the meal, for example, one type of wot with meat or chicken, one wot or allicha with legumes and one with vegetables. Sour-milk cheese (ayib) is sometimes served with the enjera. The guests and adult men eat first and after that the women and children. The thick part of the sauce is the best and most tasty and will therefore be taken first. The thin part of the wot has been soaked up by the enjera and this may be the only food for women and children. It is also said that:" A child should be hungry". Small pieces of enjera are eaten at a time and with the help of these also the wot is consumed. When the guest has finished eating it is polite to put more pieces of enjera and wot (gorsha) into his mouth. Before eating, the hands are washed with water and in wealthy families soap is used. Most often the children carry the water around. The water is poured over the hands of each person and caught in a special bowl; it would be unclean to wash the hands in water that another person has used. The washing procedure is repeated after the meal.

The wot can be eaten either freshly prepared or served cool. This is especially the case in some areas where they eat the food left over from the previous day in the morning before starting the daily work.

The Ethiopian culture and tradition is built up around this traditional food pattern, enjera and wot, and there are many proverbs about it (5). One says that "Hand and fly-whisk, mouth and enjera go together" and another "The enjera I have, my lass, the wot I wait you to pass".

Preparation of wot and allicha. The chopped onion and garlic are toasted at low heat until golden brown. Butter or oil is added and the onion is fried for about 5 minutes. The berberre, other spices, salt and a small amount of water are added and the mixture is cooked for about 15-20 minutes. The spice mixture berberre has the nicest taste after being cooked in a mixture containing fat. When chicken, meat, vegetables or potatoes are used, the raw pieces are added to the spicy sauce, together with water, and after that it is boiled until ready. Legumes are most often boiled in water and afterwards added to the spicy sauce. Pea flour (shiro) when used, is mixed with boiling water and added to the spice mixture. The allicha is prepared in the same way as geyy wot and the spices and salt are added to the onion and fat mixture. The green pepper is chopped after the seeds have been taken away and added to the spicy sauce. In the villages in the central Ethiopian highlands green pepper is not available during the entire year and the allicha is made without this spice. Fairly often the wot or allicha are over-cooked and part of the ascorbic acid and the thiamine is destroyed.

The wot for a real feast contains an ample supply of chicken and eggs (dorowot). Poor people save money so they can afford to buy chicken for breaking their fast after the long fasting period (fazika zom) during Lent. Many traditional rules are followed in the preparation of dorowot for this feast. The chicken must be cleaned very thoroughly and it is said to be a great shame to the housewife if a small barb is found in the wot. It is also said that, by tasting the wot, one can tell if the chicken has been cleaned satisfactorily. The chicken should always be cut into 12 pieces. Tejj (honey wine) sometimes replaces water in this wot. Eggs are hard-boiled and peeled, and small cuts are made in them and they are put into the sauce before serving, in order to acquire the spicy taste.

Fitfit is a mixture of enjera and sauce (wot or allicha). Fitfit can be served to the family but is commonly given to a child when it starts to eat the family diet. The wot or allicha may be of different types but should be somewhat thinner than the usual one. Fresh or dried enjera (yenjera dirqosh) can be used for fitfit.

(toasted cereals, legumes or sunflower seeds). Toasted foodstuffs are either eaten as a snack with coffee or (in one part of the country) served as the main meal. The cereals, legumes or sunflower seeds are toasted on the metal mitad (sometimes corn is boiled before being toasted). The toasted products are difficult to digest, especially for the children, and the nutritive value is reduced, because some of the amino acids lysine and thiamine are destroyed by the toasting process.

Nefro (boiled cereals and legumes). Different types of cereals and legumes are boiled in salty water and served as a snack or as a main meal.

is crushed grains (wheat, Emmer wheat), which are boiled in salted water and served hot, mostly for breakfast.

(porridge). Gonfo is a traditional food in some of the Ethiopian ethnic groups. Porridge may be served as a main meal (breakfast) or on special occasions. Most often this food is given to the mother after childbirth, and also to guests for this celebration. It is also believed to give extra strength during sickness. The porridge is made of whole grain flour, wheat, barley, tef, corn or sorghum. Fairly often a mixture of two cereals is used and chickpeas flour may also be added. The porridge is prepared in the usual way and salt is added. Porridge is served in the pot or in a bowl and spiced butter and berberre are put in a hole in the middle of the porridge. The poor people cannot afford to buy this large amount of butter and will mix the butter and spice with the porridge. Porridge is most often served hot. "Porridge and love should be served hot, if cold, they will lose a lot".

(pea flour). Pea flour is made at home from split peas. Sometimes the pea flour is mixed with salt and spices and is then readied for use in the wot or allicha. This type of mixture can also be bought in shops and in some of the local markets. Two types of shiro can be found, but, of course, the proportion of different spices shows great variations.

Meten shiro
is used for shire wot. The pea flour is mixed with dried, ground garlic, ginger, chili, black cummin, bishop's weed, Ethiopian cardemom and salt. About 20-30% of the total weight is spices and salt.

Nech shiro is used for shiro allicha. To the pea flour are added the spices, consisting of dried and ground garlic, ginger, maka lesha (a spice mixture) and salt. Fifteen to twenty per cent of the ready-made shiro consists of spices and salt.

Fenugreek (abish). Fenugreek is one of the oldest cultivated plants and has been grown in Egypt and India since ancient times. The early Egyptians recognized it as a health-giving plant and used it as a medicine, for food and in religious ceremonies. Harem women of the East ate the seeds to give themselves a pleasing plumpness. In India the young plants are used as a vegetable and the seeds as a spice. In Ethiopia fenugreek seeds are used extensively as a spice, a food and a medicine. The green part of the plant is apparently never used as a vegetable. It would be of great nutritive value, because of the content of calcium, iron, carotene and ascorbic acid in the leaves. The seeds are used with other spices in the wot or they can be used to flavour enjera. In infant-feeding it is common to give the infant the third or fourth decoction of the seeds. The seeds contain around 22% of protein and the decoction about O,5%.

can also be used to prepare a beverage which is frequently consumed during the fasting period. The flour is poured slowly over the surface of cold water and should not be stirred. The flour will be allowed to sink to the bottom of the bowl and remain undisturbed from the evening to the next morning, in order to remove the bitterness of the seeds. In the morning the water is slowly but completely poured away, the dough is beaten for about 5 minutes and sugar or honey and water are added at intervals. This drink is believed to be especially valuable during the long fasting period.

Milk and milk products

Fresh milk
is kept especially for infants, but the main part is stored in gourds in the hut until it is sour. After that it is shaken and the butter fat is separated. The buttermilk (arera) can be used as a beverage or the lowfat sourmilk cheese (ayib) can be made from it.

is prepared from buttermilk by heating in a clay pot until it curds, when the whey (aqquat) is taken away. The sour-milk cheese can be kept for a considerably longer time than milk. The biological value of the protein is high and the amount is about 15%.

is stored in small gourds in the home. Because of the unhygienic conditions the butter made at home is often dirty, contains a considerable amount of buttermilk and gets rancid quickly.

The unspiced butter is mainly given to small children; it is put into their mouths and noses in order to grease their intestines. Unspiced butter is also used by the Oromo women for greasing their bodies.

In Ethiopia, as in other African countries, butter is made into ghee, which can be stored in the hut for a long time. The type of ghee which is made in Ethiopia is always spiced. The most common spices are Ethiopian cardamom, garlic, black cummin, tumeric, fenugreek, sacred basil, rue, ginger, cloves, long pepper, black pepper and salt. All the spices, except lumeric and fenugreek, are pounded in the mortar and toasted on the metal mitad. Fenugreek seeds are toasted and the prepared spices are ground on the wofcho. Butter and the spice mixture are heated in the pot and stirred. When all the water has evaporated and the fat is clear and light brown in colour, the ground tumeric is added and the fat is sieved. The bottom part is heated again and sieved. This butter has a liquid consistence and smells of the spices used.

Spice Mixtures

Berberre consists of a mixture of different spices, the main ingredient being chili (Capsicum frutescens). A number of varieties of chili, both wild and cultivated, are grown in the Ethiopian Highlands. In the local language (amharinja) the term berberre means both the pod (chili) and the spice mixture (see below). The green, unripe chili can be chopped and mixed with shallots, garlic and other condiments. The red chili is most common in use. As far as quality is concerned, the stage of maturity is of great importance. The best quality is the dark, red type. The pods are picked by hand and then dried in the sun on a fibre mat or on the ground, with the result that they are contaminated by the soil. The seeds are often dried separately. The dried chili can be kept for a long time in dry storage and the spice mixture is most often made for the monthly needs. The chili has high contents of carotene (vitamin-A precursor) and ascorbic acid, but the amounts are considerably decreased if the spice is dried and stored under poor conditions.

The pounded chili is mixed with garlic, ginger, fresh sacred basil and rue and is left in the sun to dry and afterwards milled. The spice mixture should be kept in an airtight container in the dark; if it is stored in the light, the carotene will be destroyed and the colour will change. Sometimes the spice mixture is mixed with a small quantity of water to form a paste.

Mitmitta is a spice mixture mainly used for raw meat. Bird's-eye chili is dried with Ethiopian cardamom, black cummin, and bishop's weed, and then mixed with salt and ground. This spice mixture should be stored in an airtight container in the dark. Mitmitta is better than the berberre mixture. In the Begemder Province a type of chili between chili and bird's-eye chili, both in size and spiciness, is used.

is a spice mixture made up of imported spices and can be bought in the local spice market or made at home. Black pepper, long pepper, cloves and cinnamon are heated slightly on the metal mitad in order to dry them and are then ground in the mortar.

Makalesha is often used in wot and allicha, when the dark colour of the spice mixture does not interfere with the desired colour of the dish.

Awaze is a spice mixture which is mainly used for spicing raw meat. Most often this spice mixture is prepared before a big feast, and served as a dry spice or mixed with tejj (honey wine) or water.

Seeded pods
of chili are pounded together with chopped ginger, garlic and red onion in the mortar. The other spices -- Ethiopian cardamom, cloves, bishop's weed and black cummin are heated on the iron mitad and mixed with the chili mixture and milled.


The beverage for weekdays is the local beer (tella) and for feasts honey wine (tejj). It is polite to serve the glass so full that it overflows, and also to serve a second glass as soon as the first is finished.

Tella is made of different cereals. Tef and corn are the most popular, but in some areas barley, millet or sorghum can be used. The way of preparing tella differs as between the ethnic groups and depends on tradition and the economic situation. The clay container (insera) is washed with grawa and water several times and after that smoked with wood from weyra, and/or tinjute for about 10 minutes, in order to get it as clean as possible. Germinated grains of barley, corn or wheat (bekel), bought in the local market or prepared at home, are dried and milled. For making bekel, the grains are moistened in water and the moist grains are placed between fresh leaves, left to germinate for 3 days and after that dried. Gesho (local hops), is available dried in the local market. The gesho is dried again in the sun for about 1/2 hour and after that pounded. The leaves are separated from the stems, which need a longer time to dry. The ground gesho leaves are placed in a clay container with water and left to ferment for 2-3 days. Some of the grains intended for tella preparation are toasted and milled, and then mixed with water and baked on the mitad. This kita, broken into small pieces, part of the milled bekel and the pounded gesho stems are added to the water mixture and allowed to ferment for 1-2 days. The rest of the flour is toasted on the mitad, sprinkled with water and toasted until dark brown. This mixture enkuro, the rest of the germinated grains (bekel), some gesho, and water are added to the container. The mixture is kept covered overnight, after which more water is added and the container is kept sealed for 5-7 days, when the beverage is ready. Tella can be kept for 10-12 days.

High-quality tella is made with a relatively small quantity of water.

Kerari. When the clear tella is used, fresh water is added and the mixture is again left to ferment. This beverage is weaker than the regular tella, and is most often used for family consumption, it is sometimes also given to the small children. The better quality is most often kept for guests.

Filtered tella is made in the same way (sometimes the flour is toasted very hard), but is more concentrated and the tella is filtered through a cotton cloth and kept in a closed container. This type of tella has a higher alcohol content and can be kept for 2-3 weeks.

Korefe is the name of the local beer made in Begemder Province among the Koumant ethnic group. Dehusked barley is left in water overnight, and after that toasted and milled. It is mixed with water, and dried gesho leaves and fermented in a clay container for 2-3 months. When the beverage is needed, a small quantity of the mixture is taken, more water is added and after a day's fermentation the beverage is ready for consumption.

Shamit is the local beer made among the Gurage ethnic group. Tef, kita and germinated barley (bekel) are milled and mixed with water, and the mixture is sieved after 3-4 days' fermentation. Dehusked barley is toasted on the mitad, milled and added to the mixture, and the beverage is ready to serve the next day, when Ethiopian cardamom, mitmitta, black cummin and bishop's weed are added.

Tejj (honey wine) is a beverage mainly used for great feasts, such as weddings and the breaking of fasts. It is a prestige beverage, and more expensive than the local beer. The most appreciated honey is the Tigre type. The honey is mixed with water and kept covered for 3 days. The wax and foreign particles are removed by sieving, and the mixture is put in a clean clay container (insera). Gesho stems are heated on the mitad and added to the mixture, which is left to ferment in a closed container for 5-6 days.

Filtered tejj is made in much the same way, but the gesho stems are crushed several times in the hands. The tejj is filtered through a cotton cloth and put in a clean container and left to ferment. The tejj can be served fresh and is very sweet. The longer it is allowed to ferment, the more sugar will be used for the fermentation process, with an increase in the alcohol content as a result. The slightly sweet tejj looks nice and tastes good. One proverb says "Tejj has no spots and a poor man has no friends". Tejj can be stored for 5-6 months if kept in sealed bottles.

Araqe is a distilled beverage. Ground gesho leaves and water are kept for 3-4 days and after that a kita made of tef or other cereals and germinated barley or wheat are added. The mixture is allowed to ferment for 5-6 days and then distilled. In the villages distillation is carried out with primitive equipments made of gourds and wood. The local beer tella can also be distilled to produce araqe. The araqe can be redistilled and will then have a higher alcohol content.

The alcohol contents of different beverages are listed below

   % Alcohol
Tella 2.0 - 3.5
Tella, filtered 5.0 - 6.0
Tejj 6.0 - 9.0
Araqe 22.0 - 28.0
Araqe, redistilled 45.0 - 50.0


Coffee is the beverage most used in parts of the Highlands. The coffee is bought in small quantities -- often one Ethiopian coffee cup (50-75 cc) in the local market. The amount needed for one preparation is toasted hard on the mitad, and the beans are ground in a small mortar and put into boiling water. The time for boiling coffee varies from a few minutes to 10 minutes or more. It is a common practice of the Oromo ethnic group to put a small amount of salt in the coffee. Sugar is added to the coffee in large quantities by people who can afford to buy sugar. After the first serving to the guests and the husband, fresh water is added to the pot and the coffee is boiled again. This poor-quality coffee is served to the other members of the family, sometimes also to the children. In the villages it is common for the neighbouring women to visit each other, drink coffee and talk together. The coffee-drinking is the most important social function among the women in a village and is sometimes a kind of institution. Outsiders without good contacts with the women in the village should not disturb them in their houses during the coffee hour. With coffee is served a small snack, such as toasted cereals or legumes (qolo) or, if these are not available, a piece of enjera or kita. Fairly often the coffee cups and the coffee tray are borrowed from family to family and, if there is a shortage of cups, the most important people are served first and the others get the second serving.

Tea is not grown in Ethiopia but is imported in small quantities. Tea is boiled with large amounts of sugar and spices, such as rue or mint, and served with a fresh leaf of rue. Tea is a prestige beverage, because it is more expensive than coffee. In parts of the country coffee leaves are used in the same way as tea.

Chat (Catha edulis). Catha edulis is a shrub cultivated in Ethiopia. The leaves have been chewed as a narcotic by people in Arabia and eastern Africa for centuries. Most of the pharmacological activity of chat is due to the presence of D-nor-isoephedrine (cathine). During the rainy season, when chat is cheap, large quantities are used, but less during the dry season, when the price is increased. The Moslems usually start to chew chat in the morning, while they are meditating and praying. The fresh leaves are chewed until all the juice is extracted and large quantities of water are taken at the same time. After about 10 minutes the drug is swallowed. Chat is said to relieve hunger; after chewing chat, it is said that the men can work the whole day without food. Thus, chat interferes with the traditional habit of eating 2-3 meals per day, and may result in a lower nutritional standard for individuals and also for their families, because too much money may be spent on chat.

Food For Fasts Among The Ethiopian Orthodox Christians

According to the fasting rules for the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, the food on fasting days should not include any food of animal origin, with the exception of fish. The main ingredient in the wot or allicha must thus be of vegetable origin and the sauce must be based on legumes, potatoes, kale or pumpkin. As already indicated, fish is difficult to transport and easily goes bad and is therefore too expensive for most people.

The wot or allicha prepared on fasting days are adaptations of regular dishes to the fasting rules. Special traditional fasting dishes, such as elbet and seljo, may be prepared (6).

Another common fasting dish is oilseed sauce, prepared in the same way as wot or allicha. To make this, oilseeds -- niger, lax or safflower -- are toasted, crushed and mixed with hot water. This mixture is spiced and served in the traditional way with enjera or mixed with the enjera as fit-fit. In part of the Ethiopian Highlands the wot made of flax seed is the staple food during the entire year.

Beverages made of flax, safflower or fenugreek are also used during fasting periods.


The international organizations are aware of the magnitude of the problem of malnutrition and are working on different lines. Everywhere experiences has shown that, in building up an applied nutrition programme, the food habits, traditions and taboos in the country should be taken into consideration. More knowledge of every detail of social organization and the significance of good habits is therefore an essential pre-requisite for guided change. This type of background information can be made good use of in practical development programmes.


1. Agren, G., A1mgard,G., Mellander, 0., Vahiquist, B., Bjornesjo, K.B., Hofvander, Y., Jacobsson, K., Knutsson, K.E., Mellbin, T., and Selinus, R.: Children's Nutrition Unit - an Ethio-Swedish project in the field of health. Ethiopian Medical Journal, 1966:5, 5-13.

2. Agren, C., Gibson, R.: Food Composition Table for use in Ethiopia. SIDA, Stockholm 1968.

3.Hofvander, Y.: Haematological investigations in Ethiopia with special reference to a high iron intake. Acta Med. Scand. Suppl. 494, 1968

4. Analysis carried out in the Jones and Amos Laboratory in London.

5. Levine, D.: Wax and gold. London 1965

6. Knutsson, K.E., Selinus, R.: Fasting in Ethiopia-an Anthropological and Nutritional Study. American J. Clin. Nutr. June 1970.


Ethio Food Table