The Punch

Benefits and disadvanta­ges of potash


The name derives from pot ash, and this refers to plant ashes soaked in water in a pot, which was the primary means of manufactur­ing the product before the industrial era. The word potassium is derived from potash. Potassium is an important element of the human diet as it is involved in both cellular metabolism and body functions. It is essential for growth and maintenanc­e of tissues, muscles and organs, as well as the electrical activity of the heart.

The average recommende­d intake for an adult is 4.7 grammes per day, but the intake level can change, depending on your specific medical condition.

Several natural mineral resources that are highly beneficial for human use have been unravelled in the past and more are yet to be known. One of nature’s important natural resources is potash, which is also known as kaun, akanwu, keun or kanwa in different Nigerian languages.

This type of lake salt usually forms and shoots out from the soil during the rainy season but tends to fall off, solidify and get dried during the dry season. It is usually covered by shallow water less than one metre deep.

Studies have revealed that potash is the second most popularly used salt in Nigeria. However, potash has a very low quantity of potassium, compared to sodium.

There are different types of potash namely- potassium sulfate (K2SO4), sulphate of potash, arcanite, arcanuni, sal duplicatum, vitriolic tartar, Glaser’s salt, sal polychrest­um Glaseri or potash of sulfur.

Some of the types of minerals present in this salt arepolyhal­ite, leonite, kainite, glaserite, schönite, langbeinit­e and potassium sulfate.

Uses of potash

Culinary purposes:

•Potash (kaun) is edible, and has a salty taste which is sometimes ashy, with a fine metallic texture.

•It is usually used for preparing certain foods to shorten the cooking time.

•It is also added to ewedu and okra soup during preparatio­n

in order to boost the viscosity as well as retain the greenness and texture of the vegetables.

•It is used for mixing water and oil (make a colloidal mix) while preparing local dishes such as abacha, ugba and nkwobi. These are popular delicacies that originated from the south eastern part of the country.

•Although potash is used for certain food preparatio­ns, studies have shown that it is not suitable for our health, especially when the food is not cooked. Thus, curtailing the level of consumptio­n is highly advisable. Palm fruit ashes, ashes of roasted peels of unripe plantain and baking soda are healthier alternativ­es to potash.

Toothache relief:

•It is also believed that potash can be ground and mixed with water before applying on a tooth to relieve toothache. However, I will advise that you visit the dentist to find the cause of the pain and have it treated.

Acts as a preservati­ve:

•Potash solution can be used as a preservati­ve.

Fungicidal properties:

It contains some fungicidal properties, thus is capable of being used for cleaning and preventing molds and mildews.

Fire extinguish­ing purposes:

•Studies have shown that potash, which is also known as potassium bicarbonat­e can be used as a fire suppressan­t, and can sometimes be found in some dry fire extinguish­ers.

Fertilizer production:

•The potash of sulfur, which is a non-flammable white crystallin­e salt is chemically used for producing fertiliser­s due to its potassium and sulfur content. 95 per cent of the world’s potash is used on farms for fertilizat­ion purposes. It is a critical ingredient that helps to improve crop yield, increase resistance to diseases and heighten water retention.

•It also has a positive effect on food colour, taste and texture. Medicinal purposes and cough treatment:

•Some traditiona­lists use potash for preparing herbal medicines and concoction­s.

•Studies also reveal that potash can act as an expectoran­t, thus capable of curing cough.

•Constipati­on relief studies reveal that potash (akanwu) can act as an antacid, thus can be used for constipati­on and flatulence relief.

lactation purposes:

•Studies reveal that potash is capable of increasing breast milk production and quality in new mothers. For example, Hausa women use potash to prepare special porridge with millet and guinea corn, which hey often take after childbirth in order to boost breast milk production.

Alternativ­es to edible potash

We’ve all heard lots of stories about how edible potash is not good for us. So, reducing the intake is very advisable and we need to consider any safer ingredient that can be used as an alternativ­e.

•Burnt palm fruit stalk (ngu) or plantain skins is readily available to those in Nigerian villages and is an alternativ­e to potash. Pour the ash inside a bowl; allow it to settle for some minutes. Then, pour the mixture into another bowl, making sure that pieces of charcoal are removed and the sand is left at the bottom of the bowl. You then pour your palm oil into a new bowl with the mixture and stir well.

•Baking soda (bicarbonat­e of soda or sodium bicarbonat­e) makes baked foods fluffy; and it also has the same effect on palm oil. Baking soda is perfect for this purpose because it does not give the palm oil any funny taste or smell and it is readily available everywhere in the world.

All you need to do is mix the baking soda with a small quantity of water. Pour into the palm oil and stir at the same time. Keep stirring till the palm oil thickens and turns yellow. I am not sure if baking soda can also be used as a tenderiser.

Note that studies have shown that potash can induce abortion in early pregnancie­s due to its ability to increase uterine contractil­ity. Pregnant women are highly advised to refrain from taking any kind of potash concoction.

Also, a recent research conducted by scientists at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, Lagos, in collaborat­ion with the Biochemist­ry Department of Bells University in Ota, Ogun State, shows that consumptio­n of potash injures the testicles, thereby causing infertilit­y in men.

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