|Cow Skin (aka ponmo)|
I imagine every cuisine of the world has one food item or another, that causes so much controversy about why and how it is eaten and enjoyed....and for Nigeria & Nigerians, one of such food items is the cow skin...(aka pomo, ponmo, awo, kanda (dried form), raincoat).
In today's post I share with you some of the information I have researched on cow skin to help you to get the information you need to determine if you should or should not be eating pomo...
What is Cow Skin
This is the hairy outer covering of the cow which is removed when slaughtered for food. Also referred to as cow hide, it is a by-product of processing cow for meat in the food industry and usually earmarked for processing into other things. The skin is regarded as an organ and is considered to be the largest organ in an animal due to its large surface area.
To the world at large, cow hide is destined to be processed through tanning, to make leather which is subsequently used for a variety of things in the fashion and furniture manufacturing industries. On the other hand, protein in cow skin, known as collagen/gelatine is also extracted for use in the pharmaceutical, food and cosmetics industries.
From Cow Skin to Pomo
Nigerians enjoy a delicacy processed from cow skin which is locally referred to as pomo. It is very popular and even though it was regarded as a frugal alternative to meat, pomo is eaten across different societal class levels. It features regularly, along with other types of meats, in classic traditional dishes, and its absence in a dish, to some people, can cause "trouble". Cow skin in itself is really tough to eat and requires an arduous process of cooking to soften/tenderize it for human consumption.
The main aims of processing cow skin to pomo, are to remove the hair from the skin and tenderize it, and there are two methods for doing this: boiling and burning/roasting. After skinning the cow, the skin is cut up into manageable sizes and either boiled or burned/roasted.
Boiling: In this method, the cow skin is first plunged into hot water to help make it easy to remove the hair. After shaving, the cow skin is further cooked until it becomes soft and ready for consumption. After boiling, the skin continues to be soaked in water for several hours which triggers a short stage of fermentation, which also contributes to softening the cow skin. This process produces the white type of pomo.
Burning/Roasting: In this method, the skin is thrown into a burning flame to singe the hair off and also commence the process of softening it. The flame is made using old tyres and/or wood. Some other petrochemical agents (such as kerosene, diesel or petrol) are often added to create an intense flame. After roasting, the pomo is further boiled, then washed and allowed to soak in water. The outcome of this method is the brown/burnt color pomo.
It is often said that cow skin has no nutritional value. This is actually not the case. Cow skin is very high in collagen, a type of protein which is really quite important for holding bones and skin tissues in place. And according to Akwetey W. Y., Eremong D. C. and Donkoh A. (Journal of Animal Science Advances), as well as protein, cow skin, also contains some reasonable levels of minerals depending on the method of processing it. But the protein in cow skin is considered to be of low quality....
Generally speaking, foods with high quality protein or of high biological value are foods that contain all the essential amino acids the body needs daily to function. Example include cheese, milk, eggs, beef, chicken, fish.
On the other hand, foods with high level of collagen protein or high gelatine content such as cow foot, chicken foot, pig's tail, oxtail and cow skin and other gelatinous meats, are considered to be of low biological value (low quality protein). This is because they contain high levels of non essential amino acids (i.e. amino acids that the body can already produce) and lack one or more of the essential amino acids..
But wait a minute...., cow skin is not the only food in this category though...some other popular foods thought to be really healthy such as peas, beans, nuts, also lack one amino acid or the other.....
So What are the Concerns
All over the internet there are several references to pomo being unhealthy, cancer causing, nutritionally value-less and also a drain to the Nigerian economy. Even a BBC article picked it up (Nigeria Is Eating its Leather Industry...!)
First of all, in reference to pomo being unhealthy, we have established above that it does contain some amount of protein (albeit low quality because it lacks some essential amino acids) and also it contains some minerals. This claim was made in the research work of Akwetey W. Y., Eremong D. C. and Donkoh A. referenced above. They however infer that the quantities of nutrients in pomo is directly dependent on the method of production.
Akwetey W. Y., Eremong D. C. and Donkoh A. also found out that contaminants are most likely introduced into pomo based on the methods of production. For instance, the pomo made through roasting in flames made with tyre and petrochemicals, is more likely to carry residual elements which would be unsuitable for consumption and may have dangerous effects on the body.
There are also concerns that some chemical substances given to cattle (for veterinary reasons) prior to slaughter, may remain the the skin and subsequent passed on to humans who eat the skin. This in addition to fears that the skin harbors parasites, lesions or diseases which could be transferred into the food chain.
Furthermore, there are concerns that unscrupulous pomo processors/producers inject chemical agents into pomo to plump it up and make it more appealing for buyers.
Last but not least of all these concerns, is that Nigeria could be earning more foreign currency by exporting cow hide or perhaps develop its own leather manufacturing industry. So rather than eat cow skin, Nigerians being persuaded to sell it or turn it to leather!
Every concern expressed above relates directly to the methods of processing of pomo. With better methods of production, and with appropriate monitoring and public health inspection and certification, I believe there will less concerns about pomo.
Pomo is a delicacy that Nigerians love and enjoy, more for its taste and texture (when cooked properly). It does contribute a unique taste and texture to any meal it is added, particularly stews and soups.
Due to its level of popularity and availability, I do not think pomo is a food item that is about to be eliminated from the Nigerian culinary culture any time soon! Instead, what ought to be done is address the concerns surrounding its production and ensure that methods that are used follow the right specifications and standards.
How I Use Pomo
I am partial to using pomo occasionally, especially when I make traditional soups like egusi, ogbonna and efo riro. I do enjoy the great taste and texture it brings to my dishes.
I am quite selective with the ones I buy, but while there are no guaranties, I do check for these three things before I buy: the thickness and texture, the smell, and general appearance - I inspect to see that there are no cuts or bruises on the surface. I also check that the texture is firm and spongy with no offensive or over powering smell.
When I purchase some pomo, I clean it out thoroughly before use. First I place the pomo pieces into hot water and with a metal sponge, I scrub them ensuring there are not black streaks on the surface and crevices/folds. I further rinse out with fresh clean water with some added lime or lemon juice. I finally cut into smaller bite size pieces and boil for about ten minutes or until they become soft to my preference. I then remove from the water used to boil them, discard the water and retain the pomo pieces until needed.
"When cooking pomo, I ensure that it is not the only source of protein in my meal. Combine pomo with other types of protein and vegetables so that you end up with a nutritionally balanced meal. "
Usage in other Countries
Cow skin is also processed like pomo and eaten in other West African countries such as Ghana where it is called welle or wele.
Cow skin is equally consumed in the Caribbeans where it is added to stews and soups and well loved by West Indian men in particular.
However in other countries particularly in the industrially advanced ones, gelatine/collagen is extracted from cow skin (as well as pig, chicken legs and other animal bones) and used in various forms in the food industry to make food items such as jelly, gello, gelatin sheets, fruit or wine gums, gummy bears, jelly babies, ice-cream etc. It is also added to ready meal and other processed food in which it acts a a gelling agent.
Gelatine is also used in pharmaceutical companies to make casing for medicines and added to medicines as a gelling agent. Also added to beauty creams/products in the cosmetic industries.
The Japanese people also extract collagen from cow skin (as well as other animal sources) to make collagen powder or bases which are used to make collagen soup, a supposed trendy/fad beauty treatment...
- Pomo has become a really popular local delicacy loved by all regardless of societal class level
- Its unique taste and texture are what makes it so popular
- The methods and materials used to produce pomo such as the use of tyre and petrochemicals such as diesel/petrol/kerosene create doubts and concerns about its suitability for human consumption
- Cow skin pomo is not nutritionally value-less as thought. Research shows that depending in its method of production, pomo contains reasonable levels of protein (albeit of low quality/low biological value because it does not contain one or more of the essential amino acids). Also, through research, some minerals have also been found in processed pomo
- Establishing a certifiable standard processing industry for the production of pomo in Nigeria is one certain way to ensure that the current health issues concerning it are eliminated
- Cow skin is consumed in one form or another across the world, either directly or indirectly from processed food items, sweets, jelly or gelato, ice-cream, food additives, ready meals, snacks etc.
- Never make pomo your main source of protein. Combine with other proteins and vegetables to strike a balance