The Asanka: The Ghanaian Grinding Pot

Kaaa or Asanka. F. Muyambo

 Ghanaian cuisine made the traditional way is always fresh, requires a considerate amount of time to create and due to the natural unprocessed nature of ingredients used, will normally require special tools and techniques to prepare. This results in the healthiest and purest form of food you can find because every ingredient used is fresh and unprocessed, therefore all the nutrients and natural goodness of the food is ready to serve.

One example of this is the pounding wooden mortar used in the preparation of fufu from pounding yams or plantains. Another is what is known as the traditional blender (especially appropriate where there is no electricity) or better known as the pounding pot.

The Ga people of Greater Accra call it Kaaa whilst the Akans from Ghana's Ashanti region (Southern & Central Ghana) call it apotoyewaa or asanka. In fact the direct translation of apotoyewaa according to one of my readers, Owusu Koranteng, is grinding pot or blender.

The kaaa is a wide clay dish with ridges. It is quite solid in construction and heavy to handle. It normally comes with a wooden masher with which ingredients are crushed. Of course one is welcome to use the modern kind of blender in the form of a hand held electric blender, however this does not transform the ingredients and extract the natural flavours from oils and ezymes the way the kaaa would, and therefore causes the end result to loose its original flavour. Fran Osseo-Asare of the Betumi Blog, specialising in Ghanaian Cuisine, explains the difference scientifically here.

To use a kaaa properly requires skill. Using the right technique is important lest you will end up with very sore wrists. Use the strength of your whole forearm as opposed to using your wrist in order to avoid misuse of the kaa; and straining of your poor wrists! The first time I used a kaaa, I felt as though the grinding process would take forever and so I have learned to exercise patience in using it. In hindsight, the mistake I made was to chop up the ingredients into chuncks that were far to big for even an hand hald blender to grind without manipulation. The best thing to do is to chhop the ingredients into pieces  which are small enough to work with. The ridges found in the kaaa should be used to the advantage of grinding well. What you do not want to do is simply pound the ingredients in the kaaa, but to actually use the friction created between the ridges and the wooden grinder to process the ingredients. You will find with time that it really is a gentle process as opposed to simply pulverising ingredients in the quickest manner possible.

You would be intrigued to know that grinding and crushing of ingredients, whilst a frequent use of the asanka, is not the only use. It is very useful in de-hulling black eyed peas, which you can read more about here. It is also used in a special cooking technique popular with the akans where ingredients are smoked or steamed separately, then crushed and finally heated on the stove in the asanka. This is known as abom.

With all these uses, however, it is important to take good care of the asanka and keep it clean to ensure durability. You can learn more about caring for your asanka in a new article which will be published and linked soon.

Want to give it a try? Read how to make fresh pepper sauce here.