Why we love this lacy beef jerky from Northern Nigeria

Like football and music, Kilishi has been uniting Nigerians for decades now.

“Uniting Nigerians?” our correspondent asked. “Yes, and I will tell you how,” he replied.

Kayode, a 32-year-old engineer narrated his experience in a bus from Abuja en route Lagos state, south-west Nigeria.

But there was a problem.

“We were in the bus for over four hours of the 10-12 hour journey and no one said a word to each other,” he began.

“As we approached Okene, Kogi state, I bought a chilled bottle of soft drink from the roadside sellers, reached for a wrap of kilishi that I bought from this market the previous day,” Kayode said as his face lit up with impish glee.

“At this moment, I had the attention of those on same line with me. Not happy with the mood in the bus, I gladly offered them the kilishi. It passed from one seat to the other with almost everyone partaking of the offering.

“That was the beginning of an interesting journey; conversations, banters and so on. It was a whole different experience afterwards.

“Travelling to Lagos tomorrow for a contract I got through a guy I met in that bus so I came to get more kilishi,” Kayode revealed, as he moved closer to his favourite vendor of the product.

Such is the power of Kilishi, the north’s gift to Nigeria and the world.

Prepared with mixed spices, Kilishi can be taken alone as a snack, or with a cup of ice cold soaked garri.

Origin of Kilishi

Although the origin of Kilishi remains unknown, Aminu, tells that the meat snack was a product of man’s effort to preserve excess meat.

The art of kilishi making is being passed to generations in most northern families.

Aminu, 28, explains that unlike Suya and kebab, Kilishi could last for months without a change in taste.

“Our forefathers started to make meat into kilishi to preserve it and also so that it won’t lose its taste,” he said. “That was how the making of Kilishi started.

“According to my grandfather, the demand for it began to increase and people started making it for sale. This trade was passed from my father to me. My brother also sells Kilishi in Maraba,” Aminu announced.

He said the product is produced in commercial quantities in Kaduna, Katsina, Bauchi and Sokoto states.

How lucrative is Kilishi business?

Passed from generation to generation, the art of kilishi making is a source of income for most northern families.

Aminu and his siblings got their school fees paid from income his father made from the sale of kilishi in Zamfara state before they relocated to Abuja.

“My father paid our school fees from this Kilishi business from primary to secondary and polytechnic level, seven of us.

“Four of us graduated from the polytechnic while three are university graduates. We all know how to make this Kilishi because we were helping my father to sell while growing up.

“Due to lack of job, I started selling Kilishi and I am making profits and taking care of my family too,” he added.

Abuja, Bauchi or Sokoto kilishi?

Like the "Jollof war" between Nigerians and Ghanaians, there is also a “Kilishi battle”.

There have been arguments over the state which produces the best kilishi in Nigeria.

Abdullahi Isa, another Kilishi seller wades into this battle.

“What makes one Kilishi better than the other is the quality and quantity of ingredients, spices and condiments used during the preparation,” Isa said.

“While there are few people in those states that can buy enough ingredients for the kilishi, others would manage and in the end, the meat won’t come out really tasty.

“But that is not the case in Abuja. Because of the people who buy Kilishi here, we make sure the ingredient is enough because if your kilishi is bad, nobody will buy it. I can say that you find better Kilishi in Abuja than other parts of the north,” he declared.

For most consumers, however, these differences do not exist.

What’s most important is the product as no one really cares about the quality or quantity of ingredients used in the preparation of the beef snack.

Exporting Kilishi

Kilishi is also in high demand outside the shores of Nigeria.

Fatima Gana, a consumer tells that her parents send Kilishi to family members in the United States and England.

“We love Kilishi a lot in my family,” Miss Gana said. “My sister who was posted to the United States of America would call home to ask that my mum should send her Kilishi from Nigeria.

“We buy as much as N10,000 to N20,000 worth of Kilishi, stuff it in a box and send down to her. She’ll then share with her friends and other Nigerians there. My parent does same for my aunty in England,” she added.

Isa noted that with the necessary encouragement from the government, Kilishi could be an income earner for the country due to the high demand for the product.

Challenges Kilishi sellers face

Like it is with every other job, Kilishi business also has its many challenges. Top on the list is the fact that customers do not want to pay much for their products.

Aminu explained further that despite the increasing cost of meat and spices for kilishi, the customers would price the product low.

“If you buy meat of N100,000, you will need at least N15,000 worth of ingredients to make really good kilishi. Our problem is that sometimes, customers will not want to pay big money for the meat; they will keep pricing it low,” Aminu said.

He stated that cattle rustling and high cost of transportation also affects the business.

“Nobody wants to give Fulani people land to keep their cow but they want kilishi. What they don’t know is that if there is no cow, there won’t be kilishi,” he said.

Is Kilishi deadly?

There has however been growing concerns of the health risk associated with the consumption of Kilishi.

Medical doctors have expressed worry that high consumption of red meat (beef) may increase one’s chances or risk of getting cancer.

Recently, the minister of health, Isaac Adewole said excessive beef consumption may lead to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke and death of many Nigerians.

Adewole, while delivering a keynote address during the First Annual Black Tie Gala Event organized by the Tristate Heart Foundation (THF), to raise five million Niara in support of cardiovascular care in Nigeria, remarked that one in every five Nigerians is hypertensive and at risk of premature death.

“Sadly, there is widespread low consumption of proteins, fruits and vegetables and increasing patronage of fast food outlets by the population.

“There is also a large promotion of sweetened products such as carbonated drinks, pastries, candies and other refined sugars, while excessive intake of salt is promoted by food additives such as monosodium glutamate common in delicacies such as Suya, Isi-ewu, Ngwo-ngwo, among others,” Adewole said.

The production of Kilishi also exposes the meat to contamination from flies and insects.

Something must kill a man, Nigerians react

For Titilope Fadare, all food has its risk factor. She advised that just like Kilishi, all foods should be taken with moderation.

“Even fruits can be harmful to the body if contaminated,” said Miss Fadare.

“The thing is, Kilishi and other foods should be eaten with moderation because too much of everything is bad,” she added.

“Something must kill a man,” Kayode declared. “The same doctors saying the consumption of Kilishi, suya and so on is harmful will still come up tomorrow to say that ‘Kilishi consumption will increase your lifespan.

“I love eating kilishi and what the doctors say won’t make me stop taking it,” he added.

As you consume your beef jerky, moderation should be the watchword.

And like Kayode, that lacy stretch of kilishi could be the needed key to that contract, job or relationship.

The question, however, is: Will you cheerfully share your kilishi?


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