Maasai | Masai | Maasai Culture | Maasai Tradition | Maasai Diet
Maasai Diet

Traditionally, the Maasai diet consisted of meat, milk, and blood from cattle. An ILCA study (Nestel 1989) states: “Today, the staple diet of the Maasai consists of cow's milk and maize-meal. The former is largely drunk fresh or in sweet tea and the latter is used to make a liquid or solid porridge. The solid porridge is known as ugali and is eaten with milk; unlike the liquid porridge, ugali is not prepared with milk. Meat, although an important food, is consumed irregularly and cannot be classified as a staple food. Animal fats or butter are used in cooking, primarily of porridge, maize, and beans. Butter is also an important infant food. Blood is rarely drunk.”

Studies by the International Livestock Centre for Africa (Bekure et al. 1991) shows a very great change in the diet of the Maasai towards non-livestock products with maize comprising 12 – 39 percent and sugar 8 – 13 percent; about one litre of milk is consumed per person daily. Most of the milk is consumed as fermented milk or buttermilk - a by-product of butter making. Milk consumption figures are very high by any standards. The needs for protein and essential amino acids are more than adequately satisfied. However, the supply of iron, niacin, vitamin C, vitamin A, thiamine and energy are never fully met by a purely milk diet. Due to changing circumstances, especially the seasonal nature of the milk supply and frequent droughts, most pastoralists, including the Maasai, now include substantial amounts of grain in their diets

The Maasai herd goats and sheep, including the Red Maasai sheep, as well as the more prized cattle. Electrocardiogram tests applied to 400 young adult male Maasai found no evidence whatsoever of heart disease, abnormalities or malfunction. Further study with carbon-14 tracers showed that the average cholesterol level was about 50 percent of that of an average American. These findings were ascribed to the amazing fitness of morans, which was evaluated as "Olympic standard".

Soups are probably the most important use of plants for food by Maasai. Acacia nilotica is the most frequently used soup plant. The root or stem bark is boiled in water and the decoction drunk alone or added to soup. The Maasai are fond of taking this as a drug, and is known to make them energetic, aggressive and fearless. Maasai eat soup laced with bitter bark and roots containing cholesterol-lowering saponins; those urban Maasai who don't have access to the bitter plants tend to develop heart disease. Although consumed as snacks, fruits constitute a major part of the food ingested by children and women looking after cattle as well as morans in the wilderness.

The mixing of cattle blood, obtained by nicking the jugular vein, and milk is done to prepare a ritual drink for special celebrations and as nourishment for the sick. However, the inclusion of blood in the traditional diet is waning due to the reduction of livestock numbers. More recently, the Maasai have grown dependent on food produced in other areas such as maize meal, rice, potatoes, cabbage (known to the Maasai as goat leaves) etc. The Maasai who live near crop farmers have engaged in cultivation as their primary mode of subsistence. In these areas, plot sizes are generally not large enough to accommodate herds of animals; thus the Maasai are forced to farm.

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University of Nairobi