The inclusion of fish such as tilapia and tuna is among the best protein sources for humans as it contains abundant nutrients such as vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, melatonin, tryptophan iron and calcium. The inclusion of fish in our diets helps to protect the body against malnutrition and its related non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure and other heart diseases, diabetes, stroke and cancer (1).

Tilapia is a globally produced fish because of its fast growth, tolerance and adaptability. It comes in a variety of colours and sizes with a fully matured one growing up to 20 inches and weighing 5-6 pounds in a suitable environment. China is the leading producer of tilapia even though Ancient Egypt is its centre of origin (2). The fish is a global delicacy but due to the diverse cultural backgrounds, it can be served on a continental dishes menu as  Pan-seared Tilapia, Deep fried Tilapia, Panko-crusted Tilapia, koobi etc (3). Either tilapia or koobi puts Ghana centre stage in this article.

The word koobi is the local name for processed tilapia with an extended shelf life through household scientific processes of salting and dehydration. On the other hand, in many parts of Ghana, the perceived name for any other processed or packaged form of tilapia other than koobi is “tilapia”.

Fried tilapia served on a plate
Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/fried-fish-kenyan-food-2917852/
Fried tilapia served on a plate

What separates tilapia from koobi?

Both tilapia and koobi are look the same but due to commercialization, perceived knowledge and elitism, most Ghanaians think they are different types of fish.

In terms of taste and smell, the two can easily be distinguished. Fresh tilapia on the Ghanaian market is mostly sold frozen or fresh. It can then be grilled, boiled, fried or roasted while koobi is  salted and dehydrated before being sold.

The fresh water fish can cost up to GH ₵ 25.00 in a local canteen in Ghana (4) however, it has triumphed over koobi which can be obtained at an amount of GH ₵ 5.00 at the local markets (5). This is a consumer perception driven situation as a result of taste and preference, packaging and marketing.

At the local tilapia spot, it is garnished with spices to give it an extraordinarily great taste and fragrance to attract consumers irrespective of the price.  Recipes are used to market spices on TV while koobi is barely advertised even though it also gives an irresistible local flavour to soups and stews.

Boiled and fried tilapia require fewer technicalities as the key principle behind it is to wash, descale and remove internal organs. It is then ready to dip in soup or stew after frying. One can easily find people eating “fufu” with light soup and boiled tilapia, “banku” with grilled tilapia, roasted yam, cocoyam or cassava with roasted koobi and boiled plantain with koobi stew in Ghana.

Local Koobi Preparation

Salted Tilapia on the grill

Locally processed koobi, requires descaling and dissecting tilapia to remove the internal organs, then stuffing them with salt. Tilapia is buried in salt in a container with a jute sack or napkin beneath it. Another jute sack or napkin is placed on it and heavy material is placed on top of it. The tilapia will be dehydrated after 2-3 days and subsequent drying under the sun enables it to harden and also get rid of the odour.

After approximately 5 days of sun-drying, the end product is known as koobi which can be priced for as cheap as GH ₵ 5.00 and $ 27.00 (6) on the Ghanaian and international market respectively. In the local preparation of koobi, salting and sun-drying are good ways of controlling bacteria  however, lighter salting tends to be the best practice.

The global populations salt intake is expected to be reduced at a rate of 30% by 2025 based on a consensus led by World Health Organization (WHO) member states as part of an agenda to ensure healthy dietary practices (7).

Health Benefits of Tilapia and Koobi

The two are the same kind of fish prepared through different processes. Their health benefits range from healthy omega acids which our bodies cannot make on their own to keeping our cholesterol levels under control. Tilapia or koobi also prepare muscle cells to respond to insulin for sugar-energy conversion. They provide proteins for the repair of damaged tissues, muscle build-up, calcium for ensuring blood clotting and strong bones. 

They are rich in iron and low in mercury which makes them good for children, and serves as a healthier alternative for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers (2). Koobi and tilapia are both healthier alternatives for vegetarians for an essential supply of iron and proteins which they do not get as a result of not eating meat.

Let’s be Cautious While we Enjoy Koobi

Most people consume too much sodium through salt without knowledge about its contribution to high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease and stroke (7). Koobi is a major source of salt and as a matter of public health concern, a series of campaigns have been made for people to reduce the salt level through soaking overnight.

 It is recommended that less than 5 g of salt per day could prevent 1.7 million deaths each year (7). Potassium can mitigate the negative effects of elevated sodium consumption as a result of high salt intake. This can be done by increasing the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Other concerns that have been raised against koobi and tilapia includes the use of formalin which upon multiple exposures can lead to asthma, affect the skin, cause dermatitis, allergic reactions, bronchitis and pneumonia (8). Also, the excessive usage of spices and condiments in grilling tilapia have been reported to cause gastritis leading to ulcer, allergic reactions and behavioural alterations (9).

China may be the leading producer of tilapia but nobody does koobi like Ghana.

Reference

1.        Mendivil CO. Dietary Fish, Fish Nutrients, and Immune Function: A Review. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2021.

2.        Prabu E, Rajagopalsamy CBT, Ahilan B, Jeevagan IJMA, Renuhadevi M. Tilapia – An Excellent Candidate Species for World Aquaculture: A Review. Annu Res Rev Biol. 2019;

3.        100+ Tilapia Recipes | Allrecipes [Internet]. [cited 2021 Oct 28]. Available from: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipes/417/seafood/fish/tilapia/

4.        Tilapia Meals & Drinks in Ghana for sale ▷ Prices on Jiji.com.gh [Internet]. [cited 2021 Oct 28]. Available from: https://jiji.com.gh/meals-and-drinks/tilapia

5.        Tilapia price in Ghana – 2021 prices and charts [Internet]. [cited 2021 Oct 28]. Available from: https://www.selinawamucii.com/insights/prices/ghana/tilapia/

6.        Ghanaians react after price of one Koobi sold more than $25 in USA pops up » AfricaWish [Internet]. [cited 2021 Oct 28]. Available from: https://africawish.com/2021/04/25/ghanaians-react-after-price-of-one-koobi-sold-more-than-25-in-usa-pops-up/

7.        WHO. Healthy diets: Fact sheet. World Health Organisation. 2018.

8.        Mai TT, Kayansamruaj P, Taengphu S, Senapin S, Costa JZ, del-Pozo J, et al. Efficacy of heat-killed and formalin-killed vaccines against Tilapia tilapinevirus in juvenile Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). J Fish Dis. 2021;

9.        What Are the Harmful Effects of Spicy Food? – Health Guide Info [Internet]. [cited 2021 Oct 28]. Available from: https://www.healthguideinfo.com/nutrition-basics/p99958/

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