What is the story behind the  savory delight known as odii? 

A vendor meaures peanut butter -odii in different quantities for sale. Odii contains proteins and minerals such as magnesium and potassium.  

What you need to know:

  • The indigenous people loved to snack on  ground nuts and simsim, roasting and seasoning them to perfection. As time went on, they experimented different ways to enhance the flavour and create new culinary experiences. The oil was also used as jelly for new borns. 

After living with a neighbour who hails from Gulu District for six years, Stella Nakanjako discovered that her neighbour’s dishes were always pasted. 

“She pasted the beef, fish and the greens. She always stocked buckets of peanut butter,” she says.

“She ate peanut butter with cassava and yellow bananas. On rare occasions, she would share her meals with me,” she adds.  

Like Nakanjako, you could have tasted odii or seen it served in restaurants and homes. But do you know the history behind this savory delight? 

Once upon a time, in the lush lands of Acholi Sub-region, a smooth and spicy culinary secret, known as odii was born. Recognised as peanut butter, the true origin of this appetising spread are deeply rooted in the cultural and historical fabric of this region.

Acholi Sub-region is situated in the northern part of Uganda and is predominantly inhabited by the Acholi ethnic group, from which the region takes its name. It consists of districts such as Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, Lamwo, Agago, Amuru and Nwoya.

Among Acholi’s many natural treasures are peanuts, a versatile legume with a long history dating many decades ago. While peanuts were known and consumed in various forms across different cultures, it was in Acholi land that they found their true purpose and potential.

What is the story? 
The story of Odii begins in the ancient lands of Acholi, where farming communities cherished the bounties of their fertile soil.

Since time immemorial, peanuts were a staple crop, grown alongside other crops such as maize and millet. 

The indigenous people loved to snack on these legumes, roasting and seasoning them to perfection. As time went on, they experimented different ways to create new culinary experiences.

Jane Frances Oling, the executive director of Women in Development Uganda, born in Oyam District, recollects that in 1950’s, there were inadequate nutritional supplements for mothers.  

At the same time, missionaries were in Uganda and made plumpy nut out of simsim and ground nuts, which was fed  to children who lacked nutrients. This would later be sold in hospitals.

“According to my 83-year-old mother, the Church Missionary Society would make mothers eat the ground nuts in raw form. However, they made more research and advanced at pounding using the machines and packaged it in 1980’s. When local people said they could no longer afford the price of plumpy nuts, the Acholi went ahead and explored traditional methods to turn groundnuts and simsim into a more nutritious food,” Oling shares.

The credit for the discovery of odii goes to a visionary clan leader in Acholi land. 

History has it that he called it Odii because of the way they used to pound and squeeze it to be soft. 

You could have tasted odii or seen it served in restaurants and homes. PHOTO/FRANK BAGUMA

“Odii comes from an Acholi word diyo which means to press something,” Oling says, adding that the Rwot - the clan leader, advised his subjects to find better ways of enjoying the simsim and ground nuts.

They first washed simsim when it was raw, put it in the sun to dry and then they would pound it and put it in warm water. They would then press and a lot of oil would come out of it.

“The oil was strictly used as jelly for new borns. Parents then would bathe children, smear them with a lot of oil, and put them under the sun. They would also apply this jelly before bedtime,” Oling says.

She adds that this was religiously done by all mothers during the first three months of a baby and natives believed that it was great way to ensure babies had smooth and beautiful black skin. 

Ground nuts were used for extracting oil, which they used to fry various foods. Oling says the Odii fame eventually crossed to neighbouring regions such as the Lango sub-region.

The process of making Odii
From the garden, a local tray –winnower is used to remove the sand from simsim. It is then taken through roasting.

It is then taken off the fire and pounded in a mortar. Using a local grinder, simsim is then ground until it is soft.

In the same way, groundnuts are roasted using low heat and put on a local tray when ready and left to cool for one hour. Groundnuts are then separated from their shells, pounded in mortar and later ground using a grinding stone.

Alternatively, ground nuts and simsim can be pounded together in a local mortar after they have been cleaned separately.  They are then pounded and ground as one until a soft product -Odii is produced. Oling says this is the most preferred way of making odii.

How the process has evolved
In various areas, odii is made by roasting simsim and ground nuts. The ground nut red shells are removed, the nuts are then sorted, mixed with simsim and taken to the grinding machine for a finished product.  

This has made the whole process a lot easier and faster. 
Millers or grinders charge different rates depending on the amount of nut and energy used.  

Francis Torach, based in Kitgum District, says the process of making odii has evolved to meet the growing demand, which he blames for compromising its original quality.

“Machines produce odii which is so light. Traditionally, we used our mortars and grinding stones to produce odii for our families,” the 57-year-old says.

How odii is served
In the markets, restaurants and homes, odii can be spread over freshly baked bread or incorporated into savory stews and sweet treats. It is best eaten with bananas, cassava, sweet potatoes and pasted with greens, peas, fish and meat.
“We also eat it with Marakwanga, a traditional medicinal vegetable from the north as well as roasted beef and boo -greens,” Oling adds. 

Health benefits of odii
According to www.medicalnewstoday.com, peanut butter has a good amount of protein, essential vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, potassium and zinc. However, if eaten in excess amounts, peanut butter is high in calories, saturated fats, and sodium.

Torach says charcoal mixed with odii heals the wounds. 

The heart of odii remains firmly rooted in its birthplace, Acholi sub region.

Indigenous people in the region continue to produce peanut butter using traditional methods for family consumption and preserve its authentic taste for generations to come.