7 Nigerian Swallows for Soups and Stews

Interested in the cuisine of West Africa? The nation of Nigeria is a great place to start. Nigeria’s culinary culture is as rich and diverse as its population, and nowhere is this diversity more evident than in the humble but essential Nigerian swallows. 

a nigerian swallow surrounded by stews and soups

These staple foods play a vital role in Nigerian cuisine, providing a delicious and filling accompaniment to the array of spicy, hearty vegetable soups and meaty stews that grace tables across the country. The primary ingredients of these swallows are usually starchy roots or grains that are boiled, then pounded or ground into a fine flour, and then cooked again to achieve a smooth, dough-like consistency.

What is a Nigerian swallow?

One of the real stars of Nigerian cuisine? Nigerian swallows are starchy foods that are cooked to a dense paste and eaten with various soups. They are called “swallows” because of the method of eating, i.e. using your fingers, taking a morsel of paste, dipping it in soup, and swallowing it. There are several types of Nigerian swallows that are made from a variety of different foods.  

What are Nigerian swallow foods made from?

The primary ingredients of these swallows are usually starchy roots or grains that are boiled, then pounded or ground into a fine flour, and then cooked again to achieve a smooth, dough-like consistency.


One of the most common ingredients in Nigerian swallows is the cassava tuber. Cassava, a starchy root native to South America but now a mainstay of many African cuisines, is used to produce a variety of swallows including Garri (Eba) and Fufu. The cassava tubers are harvested, peeled, and then fermented. After this process, they’re either dried and ground to produce cassava flour for Fufu, or roasted to create Garri. Once mixed with hot water in a pot, both flours create a soft, elastic dough that is a perfect vessel for savoring rich Nigerian soups.


Yam, another starchy root common in Nigeria, forms the basis of Pounded Yam. Traditionally, yams are peeled, boiled until tender, and then pounded with a pestle in a mortar until they reach a smooth, stretchy consistency. However, in modern times, yam flour, also known as ‘elubo’, provides a convenient alternative to this labor-intensive process. The yam flour, when mixed with hot water, produces a dough that’s strikingly similar to traditionally made Pounded Yam.


Grains also feature prominently in Nigerian swallows. For example, Tuwo Shinkafa, a popular choice in the northern parts of the country, is made from rice or rice flour. The rice is cooked until very soft, then mashed to a dough-like consistency. Meanwhile, Semovita is a modern alternative to Semolina, made from durum wheat. It has a slightly grainy texture that’s adored by many.


Maize, a widely cultivated grain in Africa, is used to make Tuwo Masara. The corn flour, derived from dried maize, is cooked with water to a thick, stretchy consistency. This maize-based swallow is especially appreciated in northern Nigeria.


Millet, a small-seeded grass, has long been prized for its ability to grow in harsh, drought-prone areas. But its resilience is not the only characteristic that makes millet noteworthy. This versatile grain also takes center stage in the form of a Nigerian swallow.

Millet swallow has a unique, slightly nutty flavor that stands out, yet it doesn’t overpower the taste of the soups it’s paired with. 


While not traditionally native to Nigerian cuisine, oatmeal swallow has found a place in the country’s rich gastronomic repertoire, particularly in the form of a unique and healthy swallow. This is no surprise considering the global recognition oats have gained for their impressive health benefits, including high fiber content, and their potential role in heart health and blood sugar control.

How are Nigerian Swallows Traditionally Made?

Nigerian swallows are typically made from starchy roots that you boil or grains, which are ground into a fine flour. This flour is then gradually added to boiling water while being stirred continuously to prevent the formation of lumps. 

The mixture is cooked until it reaches a smooth, dough-like consistency that can be easily molded with the hand into small balls. These balls are then dipped into various types of rich, flavorful Nigerian soups, and swallowed, giving these staple foods their unique name.

pounded yam with afanag soup

Types of Nigerian Swallows

Pounded Yam

This is made from yam and is one of the many yam recipes eaten in Nigeria. The yam is boiled, pounded, and then molded into a ball. Remember, Yams are different than sweet potatoes!

Typically served with:

Pounded yam, one of the most popular Nigerian swallows, is typically served with a rich and flavorful soup or stew. The choice of soup can vary, but some of the most common pairings include Egusi Soup (a soup thickened with ground melon seeds and enriched with vegetables and protein like fish, meat, or poultry), Ogbono Soup (a draw soup made with ground ogbono seeds), and Efo Riro (a spinach-based stew popular in Yoruba cuisine).

It’s also not uncommon to serve pounded yam with Okra Soup, a simple, hearty soup made from fresh okra. These dishes are often full of protein, including beef, goat, fish, or shrimp, which complements the smooth, neutral taste of the pounded yam. The soups and stews are used as dips for the pounded yam, providing a balanced, nutritious, and deeply satisfying meal.


This is made from cassava (Akpu), plantains, or yams. The starchy ingredient is boiled, pounded, and then molded into a ball.

Typically served with: 

Much like pounded yam, fufu is enjoyed with various rich, hearty soups or stews. A popular partner for fufu is Egusi Soup, a nutritious and flavorful concoction of melon seeds, vegetables, and protein sources. Fufu also pairs excellently with Okra Soup, a delightfully slimy dish that’s full of flavor and often features a mix of seafood and meats. Another common pairing is with Bitterleaf Soup, a traditional Igbo dish that, despite its name, offers a delectable blend of bitter and savory flavors.

Eba (Garri)

This is made from dried and grated cassava. It is a popular Nigerian swallow and contains high levels of carbohydrates. In the west, white garri is more popular than yellow garri.

Typically served with:

Okra Soup is another popular accompaniment for Eba. The soup, which is made from okra vegetables, is known for its unique slimy texture and the rich flavors from mixed seafood and meats, providing a delightful juxtaposition to Eba.

Eba can also be enjoyed with Bitterleaf Soup, a traditional soup that has a unique bitter taste at first but leaves a savory taste in the mouth. This soup is usually made with cocoyam, palm oil, ogiri, and dried fish or meat.

Efo Riro, a spinach-based soup that is as nutritious as it is flavorful, is another fantastic partner for Eba. This soup is loaded with assorted meats and fish, making it a highly satisfying meal.

Another common partner for Eba is Ogbono Soup, a draw soup made from the dried seeds of the African mango, which offers a unique taste and texture to accompany Eba.

close up of gari iba with egusi soup


This is made from yam, plantains, or cassava. The starchy ingredient is boiled, pounded, and then molded into a ball. Amala can be prepared from green plantain, and it is one of those swallow foods that go with spicy, meaty stews too.

Typically served with:

Amala, a dark, brownish swallow made from yam skins or plantain flour, has a slightly sour taste and a unique, soft texture. It’s a staple in the southwestern part of Nigeria, particularly in Yoruba cuisine. Amala is often served with Ewedu Soup, a slimy, green soup made from jute leaves, which lends a unique taste and texture to the meal. It also goes well with Gbegiri Soup, a tasty, protein-rich soup made from beans. 

These two soups can even be combined in a traditional dish called ‘Abula’. Another great companion for Amala is Efo Riro, a spinach-based stew full of rich, aromatic spices, and proteins like fish or meat. No matter the pairing, Amala promises a memorable dining experience with its unique flavor and texture.


This is made from wheat and is a good substitute for pounded yam and amala, which are more difficult to cook. Its particles are coarse, making it a more textured swallow similar to Eba, but without the slight vinegar/sour taste. Because of its high energy content, it is beneficial to individuals trying to gain weight.

Typically served with: 

Semovita is a modern, quick-cooking form of the traditional swallow, semolina, made from wheat. Its smooth, slightly grainy texture and neutral taste make it a versatile companion to various Nigerian soups. Egusi Soup, with its melon seed base and assorted meats, is a classic pairing, offering a rich, hearty complement to the semovita. Alternatively, it can be served with Efo Riro, the spinach and locust bean soup that provides a burst of flavors. Semovita’s pleasing texture also works well with Okra Soup, whose sliminess brings a unique mouthfeel to the meal.

Tuwo Shinkafa

This is made from rice and is a popular Nigerian swallow in the northern part of the country. The rice is boiled, mashed, and then molded into a dough-like ball.

Typically served with: 

One of the most common pairings for Tuwo Shinkafa is with Miyan Kuka, a soup made from powdered baobab leaves and dried okra. The soup is often prepared with fish and beef, providing a hearty, flavorful contrast to the mild Tuwo Shinkafa.

Another popular accompaniment is Miyan Taushe, a Nigerian pumpkin soup that is both sweet and savory. The unique flavor of this soup pairs beautifully with Tuwo Shinkafa, creating a meal that is both satisfying and unique.

Miyan Wake, a traditional Hausa soup made from beans, is also often served with Tuwo Shinkafa. The rich, protein-packed soup offers a flavorful contrast to the mild rice dish.

Tuwo Shinkafa is also often served with Miyan Zogale, a delicious soup made from moringa leaves, which is known for its health benefits. The soup typically includes a variety of ingredients, such as groundnut, meat, and seasonings, creating a rich and hearty meal when paired with Tuwo Shinkafa.

Starch (Usi)

This is made from cassava and is a popular Nigerian swallow in the southern part of the country. The cassava is grated, washed, and then molded into a ball.

Typically served with:

Starch, often referred to as Usi in the Delta region of Nigeria, is a bright yellow swallow made from the root of the cassava plant. It has a stretchy, elastic texture that pairs superbly with Banga Soup, a palm fruit soup that’s a specialty in Delta cuisine. The soup is often enriched with assorted meat, dry fish, and seafood, and seasoned with a traditional spice mix. This combination of Starch and Banga Soup is a classic example of the rich, aromatic flavors characteristic of the Nigerian Delta.

close up of gari iba with egusi soup
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Types of Nigerian Swallows

Nigerian swallows are starchy foods that are cooked to a dense paste and eaten with everything from vegetable soups to meaty stews.
Prep Time2 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: african, nigerian, west african
Keyword: nigerian food, nigerian swallows, types of swallows
Servings: 4 servings


Types of Nigerian Swallows

  • Pounded Yam
  • Fufu
  • Eba (Garri)
  • Amala
  • Semovita
  • Tuwo Shinkafa
  • Starch (Usi)


  • Choose your type of swallow to pair with your dish.
  • Gather ingredients.
  • Cook and enjoy!

Health Benefits Nigerian Swallows 

As with any food, the health value of Nigerian swallows largely depends on their ingredients and the manner in which they are prepared. But generally speaking, these traditional staples do possess several nutritional benefits that contribute to a balanced diet.

Help Maintain Blood Sugar Level

Many swallows are made from whole grains or starchy roots like cassava or yam, which are rich in complex carbohydrates. These provide a steady release of energy over time, helping to maintain blood sugar levels and keep you satiated longer, thereby aiding in weight management.

High in Fiber

Nigerian swallows like those made from oats, millet, or maize are high in dietary fiber, a nutrient essential for healthy digestion. Fiber aids in bowel regularity can assist in lowering cholesterol levels and may help control blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.

Good Source of Potassium

Swallows made from yam, such as Pounded Yam, also offer a good source of potassium and Vitamin C, while those made from grains like millet are packed with protein and other beneficial nutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.

More Nigerian Food to Explore

Nigeria’s rich and diverse culinary scene offers a variety of dishes influenced by the many ethnic groups in the country. Here are ten of the most common Nigerian foods:

  1. Jollof Rice: This is perhaps the most iconic dish from West Africa, with each country in the region having its own variation. Nigerian Jollof Rice is a one-pot dish made with long-grain parboiled rice, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and a variety of spices.
  2. Egusi Soup: Made from melon seeds, vegetables, palm oil, and meat or fish, Egusi Soup is commonly served with Nigerian swallows like Pounded Yam or Eba.
  3. Suya: A popular street food, Suya is made from skewered and grilled meat, usually rubbed with a spicy peanut mix.
  4. Pepper Soup: A spicy soup made with a pepper soup spice blend, meat (which can vary from fish to goat), and often a few chunky vegetables.
  5. Akara: Also known as bean cakes, Akara is made from peeled black-eyed peas, onions, and a variety of peppers, deep-fried in palm oil.
  6. Moi Moi: This is a steamed bean pudding made from a blend of washed and peeled black-eyed peas, onions, and fresh ground peppers.
  7. Okra Soup: This is a popular soup made with okra (lady’s fingers), palm oil, crayfish, and a choice of meat or fish. It’s often served with Nigerian swallows like Fufu or Eba.

Nigerian Swallows FAQs

What is a swallow in Nigeria?

In Nigerian culinary parlance, “swallow” refers to a group of staple foods that are made from starchy flours or grains and have a dough-like consistency. These foods, such as Pounded Yam, Fufu, and Eba, are typically shaped into small balls with one’s fingers, then dipped into soup and swallowed – hence the name. They serve as an essential part of many meals, providing a delightful base for various Nigerian soups and stews.

Is a swallow and fufu the same thing?

While “fufu” is a type of “swallow”, they are not the same thing. Fufu is a specific kind of swallow popular across West Africa, including Nigeria. It’s typically made from cassava tubers, although it can also be made from other starchy foods like yams or plantains. “Swallow”, on the other hand, is a broader term that encompasses a variety of similar food items, including Fufu, Pounded Yam, Eba, and Amala, among others.

What is the best swallow in Nigeria?

The “best” swallow in Nigeria can be quite subjective as it largely depends on personal preference. Each type of swallow has its unique texture and taste that may pair better with certain kinds of soups or stews. For example, some people might prefer the slightly sour taste of Eba (Garri) with a spicy Egusi soup, while others may enjoy the soft and stretchy texture of Pounded Yam with a savory Okra soup. Exploring the variety of swallows and finding your favorite is part of the fun of diving into Nigerian cuisine!

What are swallows in African food?

In the context of African cuisine, “swallows” refer to a variety of starchy, dough-like foods that are usually consumed with soups or stews. They are named for the way they are typically eaten – formed into a small ball with one’s fingers, dipped into soup, and then swallowed. They are staple foods in many African countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon, among others. Each country and region has its variations, with different types of swallows made from diverse ingredients such as cassava, yam, plantains, cornmeal, or millet.

Whether you’re making a vegetable soup or a hearty meaty stew, there is a swallow out there to accompany your dish perfectly. Have questions or suggestions about Nigerian swallows? Leave them in the comments below. 

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