Lopè Ariyo’s secret ingredient: uda pods | West African food and drink

Uda looks like a much thicker vanilla pod but instead of micro-seeds inside the pod, there are pebble-like things. They are the length of my finger, usually; it depends where they’re harvested from. The ones that my grandma brings back from Nigeria in her suitcase are usually twice the size of my finger but the ones I get from the store are quite small.

The taste of uda is very hard to describe – there’s nothing like it. It’s almost woody, then there’s a tiny bit of bitterness, but not overpowering. It’s kind of warm, like nutmeg or cinnamon. The key distinction is its musky smell.

Traditionally, I use it in suya and pepper soup, which is a kind of broth with goat meat and offal like tripe, or sometimes a fish broth. The whole point of the dish is that it’s really, really spicy, and then you have the woody taste from uda.

It’s also amazing in place of vanilla; I make suya ice-cream. When you mix the uda pods with any form of dairy, it really seeps into it, so the taste is strong. You have to be careful how long you leave the uda in the custard for – if it’s too long it will taste more bitter.

I use it in a scotch bonnet jam for my supper clubs. Obviously the scotch bonnet is really spicy but the uda gives a musky, calming scent. It takes dishes to a whole new level. It’s not a shy spice.

Lopè Ariyo is a cookery writer and the author of Hibiscus (HarperCollins, £22)

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