Features & Stories

Consuming Passions: Crayfish

Tola Akerele is the co-founder of Lagos's Bogobiri House hotel and its Orishirishi Kitchen restaurant. Her cookbook focused on the cooking of the different Nigerian regions and peoples, The Orishirishi Cookbook, was recently added to ckbk. Orishrishi is the Yoruba word for 'variety' and the cookbook lives up to its name with a huge diversity of recipes. The book also includes a useful Stockist section with information on supplies of African ingredients in the UK, USA and Canada.

In this piece for ckbk's Consuming Passions series, Tola explains the key role played by dried crayfish as in Nigerian cooking. 

By Tola Akerele

Crayfish: Africa’s “Small” Ingredient for Tasty Delicacies

Amongst the Igbos of the South-Eastern region of Nigeria in West Africa, crayfish are a vastly popular ingredient. They are freshwater shrimp or prawns typically smoked or sun-dried and used as a seasoning in many savory West African dishes.


Oha Soup from The Orishirishi Cookbook


In the South-Eastern region of West Africa, it is often said that you can tell a person’s tribe by the way they use crayfish. For the igbos, this ingredient is often favored in generous proportions (for example in Oha Soup), and it is slowly gaining popularity across other parts of Africa. It has a distinct, tangy and intensely flavourful aroma, which transforms the taste of any meal that it is added to. Crayfish is included in a variety of stews, soups, sauces, rice and yam dishes – essentially it is part of most staple African meals. 

Also known as crawfish or crawdads in several parts of the world, these freshwater crustaceans also possess nutritional benefits. 


Nkwobi (braised cow’s foot) from The Orishirishi Cookbook


First, crayfish is an excellent option for people looking to meet their protein needs, with 100 grams of this seasoning containing around 15-20 grams of protein. It is also low in fat, helping reduce the risk of heart disease while also managing weight. If you are concerned about calorie intake, crayfish is low in calories and high in selenium, vitamins, and minerals. It is a highly effective ingredient with tons of benefits that improve well-being. 

While crayfish offers numerous nutritional benefits, it is important to consider that some people might be allergic to shellfish, and caution is advised towards eating crayfish, for them. Also, moderation is key, especially due to the  cholesterol and sodium content in crayfish.


Yam Pottage from The Orishirishi Cookbook


How is this small-but-mighty ingredient stored? When buying in large quantities, crayfish is typically ground and kept in an airtight and dry container, which can last for months. Some people also like to use it without grinding, sifting through any possible particles and storing in an airtight container as well. It is typically used and enjoyed in its sun-dried form. 


Banga Rice from The Orishirishi Cookbook


Crayfish may be tiny to look at, but its sharp aroma and health benefits make it a huge contribution to Africa’s culinary culture. It is a rich, wholesome, and delightful addition to our cuisine, introducing everyone who tastes it to a burst of flavors and an entry way into the world of Africa’s most delicious meals. 

A man selling dried crayfish in an African market
Photo: Godwin Paya CC BY-SA 4.0

Nigerian Crayfish recipes to explore

More Consuming Passions

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Food historian Sam Bilton on the world’s most previous spice, the subject of her book Fool’s Gold.

Jenny Jefferies, author of For the Love of the Land, celebrates the incredible versatility of chicken.