I’ve just been rummaging through the local store and turned up a whole range of spices(?): Ogbono, Okazi, Egusi, Bitter Leaves and Ajwain.

Ogbono turns out to be dried wild mango seeds. I would never have guessed as the mango seeds I’m used to are noticably bigger and rougher and I’m sure that the drier process does not make them that much smaller. It turns out that Ogbono is used as the thickener (and presumably flavouring) in a soup.

It is from the tropical ‘centre’ of African so eaten from Nigeria to Uganda.

Okazi is also a soup ingredient but specific to Eastern Nigeria - which although the population of Eastern Nigeria is large still seems like a fairly specific market for a shop in Inner Manchester. Perhaps somewhat more bizarrely - Ukazi (the alternative spelling) is a popular choice of surname for email scammers (some sort of inside joke?). 

Given all these variants of soup ingredients it seems a bit strange that Egusi seems to be a generic name for soup thickener that applies to a range of plants and their seeds. I’m guessing that Okazi (Ukazi) and Ogbono might well be the posh stuff. I will have to go back and look at the prices now.

Bitter leaves also go in soup but as an added flavour (from what I can work out) and actually appear as an ingredient in some versions of Okazi and Ogbono soup. I’ve seen descriptions of it suggesting it is like spinach when it is fresh. It is very much found across Africa so the variations on the theme are vast.

Ajwain turns out to have other names including “Bishop’s Weed” and Carom and has claimed medicinal values. Distilled Ajwain is Thymol and it is claims to be able to reduce flatulence caused by eating beans - quite a specific claim…

I was going to have a complain about why can my local store stock all of these variants of wonders to a relatively finite market while ASDA can’t even continute to stock Arnott’s Shaped. But with the exception of the last spice all of these seeds, spices etc, there is a meal in a packet here - a sort of traditional version of instant noodles that must have long shelf lives, occupy a very small amount of space in any shop and in some cases (Ukazi) are, at least among some people, considered delicacies. I don’t think a £1 box of biscuits in a supermarket hits any of those criteria.

It really does prove what a narrow range of foodstuffs are eaten within Western Europe or England (where the options for ‘normal’ foods is even narrower).