Ogiri-Saro, Funky Sesame Paste

I had no idea what ogiri was until @geofflukas mentioned it after tasting a butternut squash seed tahini I made seasons ago. Ogiri is an African alkaline fermented seed paste used for umami. Time passed and I forgot all about it.

Mesquite Smoked Ogiri-Saro (Fermented Sesame Seeds)

Geoff called me a couple weeks ago to help him make lesser known fermented products from around the world. Of course, ogiri was at the top of the list. I did some research and discovered there isn't a whole lot out there on this flavoring agent. I was lucky enough to find a couple of references on Google Books that have pretty good detail on the processes.

Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods by Keith Steinkraus
Fermented Grain Legumes, Seeds and Nuts: A Global Perspective, Issue 142

I decided to try the Sierra Leone ogiri-saro first because it has the most readily available ingredient, sesame seeds. I put together a process based on what I read. It's actually very easy to ferment. All you do is boil the seeds, strain and wrap in a banana leaf. Then wait a week for the bacteria to do its work. Keep in mind the banana leaf does a wonderful job containing the ammonia smell. Do not open it up, stick your nose right on top of the seeds and take a whiff like I did. It's an awful smell.

Banana Leaf Wrapped Boiled Sesame Seeds

After the fermentation is done, hot smoke the packets for two hours. I decided on mesquite because I was sure it would stand up to the strong aroma. Another reason for smoking is to get the ogiri hot enough to kill the bacteria. This is followed by pounding into a paste with salt to taste. I figured it should be a little on the salty side to keep it shelf stable.

Finished Ogiri-Saro Paste

Ogiri-saro has a unique flavor that's well worth the effort. It's nutty, funky and has cheese notes. I'm looking forward to playing around with it. I'm also hoping that someone out there can help me source some so I can get a reference taste.

The Needs
  • 8 oz. hulled sesame seeds
  • 2-3 banana leaves depending on size
  • Butcher's/cotton twine
  • Medium size pan
  • Large size pot and towel to cover or ceramic crock with cover
  • Smoker
  • Mesquite chunks or chips
The Process
  • Add sesame seeds to 3 quarts of water in a pan
  • Bring to a boil
  • Simmer covered for 2 hours
  • Strain the sesame seeds to remove most of the water
  • Let the sesame seeds sit in the strainer until you're ready to package
  • Cut eight pieces of banana leaf approximately 12" long
  • Lay out four pieces in a row
  • Stack a second layer on each piece with the leaf fibers rotated 90 degrees
  • Split the sesame into four equal piles at the center of each of the leaf stacks
  • Fold each banana leaf stack around the seeds creating a disk/puck that is completely covered by the leaves
  • Tie the packet with butcher's/cotton twine
  • Stack the packets at the bottom of a stainless steel pot covered with a towel or a ceramic crock with a cover
  • Allow the seeds to ferment for 5-7 days at room temperature
  • Open a packet and check for an ammonia smell
  • Hot smoke the packets for two hours
Important: During the smoking process, monitor the temperature of the seeds to ensure it reaches the temperature to kill off the bacteria that drove the fermentation. I used 180 degrees F to be safe. 
  • Allow the sesame seeds to cool to room temperature
  • Pound the seeds into a paste and add salt to taste
Next up, raw sunflower seed ogiri.

As always, stay inspired and keep the ideas bouncing.