From the Garden to the Dinner Table
Kalenjins & Isageek
Give the kalenjin people a meal of ugali (corn bread) and Isageek (a traditional vegetable) and you are friends for life. The kalenjins love these vegetables so much that the can feast on it all seven days of the week. All vegetables like cabbages, collard greens, spinach and beans, must be eaten with Ugali . Ugali is like corn bread made of cornmeal or millet flour and water. You get the water to the boiling point, then add corn/millet meal in portions while stirring vigorously with a cooking stick called mug’anget. You stir it until it becomes unsticky. You let it cook for a few minutes and then serve it with hot vegetables on the side, a meat selection and sour milk called Mursik . A kalenjin would eat this every day without any complains at all. No need for variety meals as long as Isageek is part of the main dish, he or she will be a happy camper. So what is this Isageek and why do these people go ‘crazy’ when this vegetable is served?
Who are the Kalenjin?
Kalenjin tribe is the fourth largest ethnic group in Kenya estimated at 12% by Central Intelligence Agency (2012). Kalenjin obtain their name from their main language they speak “kalejin” and from the word “Kolei” which warriors use in 1940s to communicate to mean “the process of scarring the breast or the arm of a warrior who had killed an enemy in the battle” referring to themselves (World Cultures, n.d). The word also has a second meaning “I tell you” a phrase used for emphasis. A few Kalenjin have also been identified in the neighboring countries of Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. The Kalenjin community is known for producing Kenyan champion runners dating back to 1968, when kipchoge keino became the first African to win gold medal. The tribe is also known for their love for faming especially cattle herding. They cows produce milk, which will go through the process of fermentation by adding smoked powder called Itet or wosek, then store it in a calabash called sotet . This process makes the milk sour and the sour or cultured milk is called mursik . The Kalenjin have also been considered a cultural tribe because it has maintained its culture through colonization, civilization and still determine to do so in the future, no matter what modernization influence may be; but of course they will keep up with the modern world not forgetting their roots, beliefs and customs. To substantiate this perspective that these people embrace their cultural practices, just visit one of their events e.g. Kitwek night and find out the meals they serve; Isageek , Ugali and Mursik are on top of the list. Check their entertainments, the music. All these are unique to their culture. The Kalenjins also have lead the country, through KASS Media Group, to launch a 24 hour, 7 days a week, a 100% vernacular (mother tongue, the tribal language) radio station, KASS FM and recently KASS television. The mail goal for these public media is to educate, entertain and promote culture in the language understood by the Kalenjin people.
What is Isageek?
Isageek is one of the Kalenjin community’s favorite vegetable.TheKalenjins owned a beautiful and fertile land in the most part of Riftvalley province in Kenya. These highlands provide tropical climate that provides the farmers with good fertile soil for planting Isageek . The women normally are responsible for planting Isageek . They do so in their small gardens near their homestead. They can plant them in lines or use the broadcasting method which is the most preferred method. Most of them grow these vegetable for domestic consumption. I have always wished they could invest in large plantations for these could be a great opportunity to generate large revenue for the families. Planting Isageek does not take a large portion of the farm. A size as small as 6 by 5 feet can generate enough handfuls to feed the family of three. Once Isageek is planted, it takes a week to geminate and about two weeks for the farmer to pick weeds, at the same time harvesting fully grown leaves ready to be cooked and served for lunch or dinner. At the same time, the farmer can also space the plants to ensure enough room for growth and loosen the soil for moisture. Picking the leaves makes the plants stronger, making the plant to produce new healthy leaves hence the assurance of a continuous supply of Isageek. It is recommended that the top part of the plant be picked so that it can branch out. Isageek plants takes about four to five months, and then leaves becomes thin, and yellowish. The plants start to flower and produce seeds. In a few days, the plants will dry up and you can harvest the seeds and plant new crops. It is a very simple procedure, cheap, fast and easy to plant and get the seeds for the next planting season. The Kalenjin people are so crazy with Isageek that even those who have immigrated to other countries, have improvised; instead of having a flower garden, they have Isageek garden. In their backyards, a large portion of it is filled with Isageek .
How is it cooked?
First, you have to cook the vegetables by boiling it with water for up to 30 minutes or so. Then drain the water and fry it with olive oil (or any cooking oil of your choice), then add onions and tomatoes. Let it cook for about 30 minutes. On the side, mix Royco Mchuzi Mix (a Kenyan spice) with cold water, and add it to the Isageek that is still cooking on the stove. Then finally, add the heavy whipping cream and let is steam for five minutes. Thereafter, you can serve it with Ugali . It must be served with Ugali other food choices can be an option but Isageek must be eaten with Ugali . Now, the kalenjin people are not big on measurements. They just use the discretion of their eyes and taste buds to determine the appropriate measurements, and 99% of the time, they do so perfectly to the right taste. The amount of ingredients that is added to the Isageek is determined by the number of approximated servings. The women cooking Isageek have become so professional in that, they just look at the amount in the cocking pot and add the right amount of spices. I have a great admiration for these women. Interesting enough, Isageek got a very bitter taste and sometimes people who are addicted to sweet flavors may not enjoy the meal served with Isageek . The older the Isageek plants are the bitter the taste. Though sometimes this bitterness challenges to me, I must confess that though I come from this community, I am not that extremely crazy with Isageek , but will devour it still every chance I come across it.
What are the health benefits?
Now having become a health fanatic, I had my own hypotheses as to why my people are so much in love with Isageek . I thought may be the bitterness gives them that extreme flavor that overworks their salivary glands. I love the smell of it too. It is unique and hard to describe it in words. I did a little bit of research to find if there are health benefits associated with Isageek. I learned that it has several nutrients that are essential for our bodies. Isageek scientific name is Gynandropsis Gynandra. Isageek is an antioxidant that helps eliminate the toxics in the body. It keeps the immune system strong making it possible to fight infections. Being an antioxidant, it is able to protect and repair cell from damaged free radicals. WebMD and other medical experts belief these damages cause chronic diseases like cancer, arthritis and hardening of arteries. According a Molecular Biologist (Dr. Sang), Isageek is also used as an analgesic and as a stimulant. It can also be used to get rid of ticks in livestock. These uses may explain as to why I used not to hear a lot of these chronic diseases while growing up. This was the main vegetable in the kalenjin diet way back than it is now.
Central Intelligence Agency. (2012). Kenya. Retrieved from
World Cultures, (n.d.). Kalenjin . Retrieved from
Resources on Kalenjin culture.
Cherono on February 13, 2014:
That is so cool,enjoyable
chepkoluumugulel (author) from Texas on June 28, 2012:
I understand that there are students who have written dissertations on these traditional vegetables especially in Uganda. There are health benefits; Isageek is used an antioxidant, analgesic, stimulant and to kill ticks in livestock. Definitely, more research needs to be done and also more chemical testing should be conducted. Thanks for reading. I know I got you mouth watery. This is good stuff.
chebochemangat on June 26, 2012:
Reading all these and looking at the pictures has woken the real kalenjin in me. I cannot stop salivating because i love this stuff. Yes i can feed on it 24 /7, especially when the plant is still young and tender-very sweet. This plant i learned is also medicinal in nature, however i think more need to be done to find out if it help in curing or counteracting some health conditions. This is good stuff chepkuluumugulel, thganks for sharing.