Blood and Milk Shake, A Favorite Diet of the Maasai
Every culture in the world got a traditional food to its name. This does not leave out the Maasai, an ethnic and tribal group that live in the savannas of East Africa covering the Kenya-Tanzania border. The Maasai community are nomadic in nature and their food revolves around cattle.
This may be a little surprising to you as it was to me. The Maasai diet revolves around cattle and relies mostly on cow’s milk and blood. Cattle is of very high value to the Maasai. The size of your herd shows your status in the community, so accumulating cattle (rather than consuming) is part of the Maasai lifestyle. Cow is rarely slaughtered or eaten, reason they milk and drain their blood. They slaughter cow only for special occasions.
From the look of things, this practice has led to them having cow’s milk and blood as their main diet. Milk plays an important role in the Maasai food culture. Milk is taken in different forms – drunk raw, soured, in tea or made into butter. Sour milk is stored in a special container called Ingri. They use milk to make butter which is given to infants and expecting or breastfeeding mothers. Raw, fresh or soured milk is taken regularly and can be consumed by Maasais of any age. The Maasai don’t add sugar in their milk, rather they add natural honey.
It should be noted that fish, chicken, wild game (except ) and salt are forbidden. Their source of salt is from blood which they tap warm from the cow’s throat. The blood is drank warm or coagulated. It could also be mixed with fresh or soured milk. The blood-milk mixture is usually used as a drink for rituals during special events or given to those who are sick. Cow blood is also drank when a woman gives birth, recovering from an accident and after excision and circumcision. When the cow is slaughtered for a special ceremony blood is preserved for the elders to take and bless the event. They have a special way of harvesting blood from cow without killing it. They cut the jugular artery of the cow letting blood to flow to a level where it doesn’t kill the animal. They eat beef (roasted and boiled), mutton and goat. The men usually sit together to eat the best part of the cooked meat while the women and children eat the marginal cuts separately.
It may sound weird that the Maasai diet is made primarily of animal proteins. However, the Maasai that live on this traditional diet are very healthy. Research as far back as the 1930s suggest that Maasai tribesmen showed no symptoms or signs of any heart disease with their level of cholesterol half as high as that of an average American. Some researchers came with the conclusion that their traditional diet may have brought about a localized evolution in them. This has made their system process animal fats. Using honey instead of a sugar can reduce the risks of having certain disease, a practice which may have contributed to their good health.
From the above, you would notice that blood and milk are the principal diets of the Maasai even though it is not the only thing they eat. Other basic foods in addition to milk and blood are honey, tubers, fat, tree barks or foraged plants which are usually used to make soups. They have also started supplementing their meals with grains. An example is the ugali, which is a thick porridge made from maize and served with milk. Ugali is a staple food widely consumed in Tanzania.
They use roots and bark of Nilotic Acacia in cooking various types of soups. What is left of it is boied and drank. Even though it has a bitter flavor, it has highly effective healing properties. It is used as a remedy for dysentery as well as for the treatment of skin injuries.
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The Maasai most often eat two meals a day – morning and at night. They can drink as much milk as they want and supplement it with meat and bark soup. The old people and children may have corn-meal or rice and drink tea (with sugar). A rare cultural practice is that men are prohibited from eating meat that has come in contact with women or prepared by an uncircumcised boy.
Source(s): Exploring Africa, Every Culture, Thomson Safaris