Understanding Nigerian Condiments - Kaun (Akanwa)

"The better understanding you have about food ingredients, the better your knowledge of using them, and the better cook you become"... Funke Koleosho

Kaun, also known as kanwu, akanwa, kanwa, akaun in different Nigerian dialects, is an ancient additive used in traditional Nigerian cooking. It does not have a pleasant taste when consumed raw, but it helps to develop tastes and flavours in the dish it is added.

There have been some concerns raised about the use of Kaun in cooking, in fact, the modern day cook tends to avoid its use, saying, "its archaic and has no real value to cooking". Some commercial caterers are even substituting kaun with bicarbonate of soda to cook traditional soups like ewedu...and I was alarmed....is this another case of disrespecting our culinary values...?

Kaun has a lot of properties for which it is desired. Some of these properties pose some concerns,. The modern day cook tends to avoid the use of Kaun. Some commercial caterers now substitute its use with bicarbonate of soda..! What are the concerns and what are the benefits....so I went on to research this ancient condiment.

What Is It --
Kaun is actually erroneously called "potash"

It is a mineral called Trona, which is a crude mixture of various salts and other components.

Kaun is sold as small stone like pieces. Colour ranges from dark gray to light/whitish gray.  Trona also exists in other colours ranging from deep yellow to dark red, brown or pink depending on the location from where it is mined.

Chemical Composition --
Salts of Sodium, (Na2Co3),
clay, and metals such as 
Aluminum, and 

Note: Location where Kaun is mined determines chemical composition.

Uses --
Tenderizer (tough meat/bone, cowpeas, cow-foot, stock fish)

Enhance mucilage in vegetable soups such as okra, okra leaves(ilasa), dried okra (orunlan) ewedu (jute leaves)

Flavour enhancer in dishes such as Nkwobi, gbegiri bean soup

Emulsifier – with palm oil and water

Food Preservative

Home Remedy: for coughs, stomach disorder, toothache, constipation. Can cause induced uterine contraction if taken in high quantity

Food Colour Additive: when used to blanch vegetables, it enhances colour and prevents darkening caused by oxidation)

Concerns --  
There is insufficient research about the true chemical composition of Trona (Kaun) in Nigeria.

But according to Sodipo et al, it is believed to contain Sodium and impurities such as clay and other minerals like silicon and titanium which may have adverse effects on the human body if consumed in large quantities.

A high amount of Kaun when consumed can induce uterine contraction and therefore lead to abortion, especially in early stages of pregnancy.

How Kaun is used --
A small piece is added to cooking and dissolves as cooking progresses. At times, a piece of the stone is dissolved first before adding to cooking

For home remedy, a small piece is dissolved in water before using. Some chew on the stone directly. Powdered Kaun is added to tobacco snuff.

For preserving food, some pieces of the stone are ground into powder and dusted on food.

 The Kaun - Bicarbonate of Soda Connection
Following my discovery that sodium bicarbonate can be used as a substitute for Kaun, again, I went into research mode and what I found was revealing....
  1. That our beloved Kaun is not Potash but Trona
  2. Trona is a sodium carbonate compound that is processed into soda ash or bicarbonate of soda, or baking soda, as it is commonly known.
  3. Kaun can be refined to produce bicarbonate of soda and can offer the same benefits
  4. Used in moderation Kaun is safe to eat, and can e a good source of minerals such as potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium.
  5. Sodium bicarbonate can be used as s substitute for Kaun in cooking dishes like Nkwobi, Ewedu etc

1. Oluwole A. Sodipo, PhD, Department of Biochemistry, College of Medical Sciences, University of Maiduguri, PMB 1069 Maiduguri, Nigeria.

2. Trace Elements in Trona Deposits of North East of Nigeria, A. I. INEGBENEBOR and A. 0. INEGBENEBOR



  1. Wow! Very enlightening. I once used kaun in my tomato stew cos it had a sour taste. A few minutes after putting kaun in the stew the sour taste disappeared

    1. I can understand how kaun might have made the "sourness to disappear".... Its alkaline properties neutralises the acidity of the tomato stew....

      Thanks for the tip...



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