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The utilization of amaranthus leaf powder to supplement ujeqe (steamed bread) wheat flour for the alleviation of food and nutrition insecurity in Empangeni South Africa.

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Malnutrition persists in many developing countries, leading to an increased concern in the farming sector to deliver at least 70% of food to feed 40% of the anticipated global population of nine billion persons by the year 2050. Such projections call for a keen interest in studies that explore underutilised edible crops for food and nutrition security of the world’s growing population. Malnutrition of all forms including micronutrient deficiencies, “called hidden hunger”, is currently an issue of concern. About 870 million people across the globe are unable to access sufficient nutritious food that optimises dietary needs. Also, 98% of this hungry population live in the developing countries, where 15% of the population is undernourished, Susceptible persons to malnutrition identified include infants, young children, and young women of childbearing age. The impact of malnutrition impairs children’s vision at an early age, slows down cognitive development and retards general development. All forms of malnutrition are nutrient-related preventable challenges; however, it is identified as the leading factor to most morbidity and mortality rates; which limits the livelihoods of many individuals especially smallholder farmers who are residents in informal settlements of urban centres and rural communities. A food-based approach where available nutrient-dense food is incorporated as an ingredient in staple food has been identified as a good strategy to tackle malnutrition. Amaranthus is an ancient C4 plant, a drought tolerant plant that requires little attention yet maximum yield; with huge potential to provide food for nutrition security. Adequate nutrition, at the household level, is indispensable for the proper functioning of the human system and well-being. However, most marginalised, and less privileged people often follow a monotonous starchy/cereal-based diet as this is the available food to fall back on. Extensive studies have shown that about 30 000 varieties of edible plants are dispersed around the world. These plants are cheap, accessible, and highly endowed with medicinal and nutritional benefits. However, only 7000 have been utilised as food while others are underutilised including Amaranthus. It is perceived that most people harvesting Amaranthus leaves for food are the most disadvantaged and marginalised in the rural communities, thus preference issues, perceptions and stigma are linked to Amaranthus underutilisation. Amaranthus seeds have been investigated as enhancers of staple foods. Similarly, leaves of Amaranthus have been identified with great potential to enhance the nutritional value of staple foods for improved nutrition security, optimizing well-being, and improving livelihoods. However, Amaranthus leaves are yet to be explored as a supplement in many traditional foods, including Ujeqe. Online databases of peer-reviewed articles and books were reviewed around the nomenclature, nutritional, and nutraceutical value and objectives were conceived for this study. A mix design (qualitative and quantitative) research method was adopted and a purposive convenience random sampling approach was utilised for the study. Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) tools such as transact walks, observation and key informant interviews were conducted. Semi-structured open-ended questionnaires were used to conduct a series of face-to-face interview with six key informants in five markets (n = 30) from urban and rural formal and informal markets where commonly sold/consumed varieties of Amaranthus were identified. Semi-structured questionnaires (100) were administered to gather data around the utilisation of Ujeqe and Amaranthus leaves as potential food for improved nutrition security. A clustered data of (91) respondents was analysed, using descriptive content analysis. The findings of the survey show that Ujeqe is consumed as a meal or as a snack by all people except babies. Also, it is a special meal well appreciated for its simplicity of ingredients and the mode of preparation thus, it is a convenient food that can be served at any time of the day, even in ceremonies, religious functions, and traditional worship of ancestors. Ujeqe’s complementary foods that were identified included legumes and protein-rich foods of animal origin including Usu which are less accessible to the less-privileged hence, some consume it alone as a snack or as a single food. Studies have shown that cereal-based foods without vegetables and fruits are inadequate for optimum well-being because they are lacking/limited in essential nutrients. Amaranthus plants have been investigated as food plant with essential nutrient. Its grains have been used as fortificants, but the leaves have been neglected and its application in Ujeqe steamed bread (USB) is rarely reported in the literature. Amaranthus seeds have been processed into flour and used as food fortificants in staple food. However, the processing of Amaranthus leaves is still very low. Thus, the most common species of Amaranthus grown and sold in formal and informal market in the study site (Amaranthus dubius) was sourced and self-processed into Amaranthus leaf powder (ALP) under a controlled food laboratory environment. The ALP was analysed for macro and micronutrients and utilised to develop 0%, 2%, 4% and 6% prototypes of ALP supplemented Ujeqe which was analysed for macronutrient and micronutrient content. The sensory attributes of ALP supplemented Ujeqe were evaluated using 60 untrained panellists. Moisture content of plain wheat flour (PWF) and ALP in the range 10.6-4.41g; were within the quality shelf-life before usage. The carbohydrate for this study (41.6-74.3g) and fat (1.58- 4.47g) were higher in both raw materials for the study (ALP and PWF). Likewise, the ash (2.37-17.97g) and protein (11.96-31.56g) were recorded as higher in the raw materials for the study. The micronutrient content of the raw materials showed that ALP had a higher nutritional composition than PWF with a statistically significant difference at p < 0.05. Mineral content of calcium was (30.00-2600mg), magnesium (40-120mg), zinc (3.267-7.068mg), copper (1.00- 17.34mg) manganese (1.434-3.00mg) and iron (7.200-24.00mg). The moisture of the ALP enriched Ujeqe prototypes was low, connoting a keeping quality of the shelf-life of the enriched ALP Ujeqe food products. All the macronutrient nutrients of ALP supplemented Ujeqe (Table 3) were enhanced with increased concentration of ALP. The enrichment was noted in the ash content of the 2% (2.2-0.0g), 4% (2.05-0.01g) and 6% prototypes (2.31-0.03g) respectively, with a statistically significant difference at p < 0.05. Likewise, levels of copper, phosphorus, calcium, zinc, manganese, and iron were recorded. All supplemented Ujeqe were enriched in nutrient content. The sensory evaluation indicated that all samples were acceptable. The 6% ALP Ujeqe prototype was the most enriched, but the 2% sample was the most acceptable prototype compared to the control sample followed by 4% and 6% respectively. There was no statistically significant difference in the overall consumer acceptability level of the enriched sample when compared with 0%, 2% and 4% ALP supplemented prototypes. The ALP supplemented Ujeqe was enhanced both in macro and micronutrients. The high ash content of the food samples in this study connotes ALP-supplemented sample richness in mineral content. The mineral content of the raw material, ALP was significantly higher than PWF, supplemented Ujeqe with 6% ALP containing the highest mineral content. Hence, from the nutritional point of view, the formulation was enriched significantly in some selected mineral content. Therefore, ALP supplementation in staple foods like Ujeqe can be a potential foodbased approach that is cost-effective and a sustainable measure for addressing food and nutrition insecurity, especially among the malnourished population. Fibre was not analysed in this study. Thus, future studies can explore ALP-supplemented Ujeqe’s fibre content and microbial tests can be carried out to determine its shelf stability. Continuous research around underutilised food plants including Amaranthus for food and nutrition security can be explored in other staple foods as viable measures to tackle nutrition security. Also, the need for effective implementation of relevant research to help in the domestication of Amaranthus cannot be overemphasised. Thus, improving the small-scale farming of Amaranthus to a larger scale appears to be a realistic way forward. Therefore, the South African government should assist small-scale farmers of Amaranthus with all the extension services needed as this may enhance their productivity and provide food and nutrition security for the community. Similarly, policymakers should consider the provision of land, finance, fertiliser, seeds, herbicides, fences, insecticides, and grants to encourage farmers to plant leafy vegetable foods like Amaranthus for nutrition security. Enhancing small-scale farmer’s capital should involve financial support from the government and the provision of land.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.