Discover the unique history and benefits of African yam bean

Sphenostylis stenocarpa, also known as African yambean, is a vital root crop in Africa, similar to a potato. The tuber has thick, brown skin and white, crisp, and juicy flesh that tastes like potatoes when cooked. But, it’s mainly grown for its seeds in West Africa.
Although classified as belonging to a different genus, the African yambean is closely related to the American version, jicama, and is grown for its swollen fleshy roots.

African yam bean
African yam bean

The African yambean is not uncommon in Central and Western Africa. Outside tropical Africa, however, no one has seen it, and few heard of it. Africans familiar with the plant regard it highly.

The problem is, only a few of the continent’s 600 million inhabitants have heard of it, let alone tasted it. It is mainly restricted to pockets of West and Central Africa, where small farmers grow it solely for their use. Thus, even within the region that knows it, many people are unaware of the botanical gem in their midst.
Indeed, the African yambean not taken even a baby step toward being a global resource; it moves in the opposite direction, toward extinction.

African yam bean
African yam bean

All yambeans are unique because they are legumes, a plant family renowned for peas, beans, soybean, peanut, and other nutritious seeds, but not for edible roots. Yet, the yambeans’ swollen underground stems are succulent, white, sweet, mildly flavored, and crisp as fresh-picked apples.

Another unique thing about African yambean is that the tubers can be consumed fresh, thereby saving wood and other cooking fuels. Soaking overnight is very useful to reduce cooking time.

Origin of the African Yambean.

The African yam bean originated in Ethiopia. Both wild and cultivated types now occur in tropical Africa as far south as Zimbabwe, throughout West Africa from Guinea to southern Nigeria, being especially common in the latter and Togo and the Ivory Coast, and East Africa from northern Ethiopia (Eritrea) to Mozambique, including Tanzania and Zanzibar.

African names:


  • Ghana: Akiteraku, Apetreku.
  • Mali: Diegemtenguere.
  • Congo: Pempo, Mpempo.
  • Igbo: Okpo Dudu, Ijiriji
  • Malawi: Chikhoma, Nkhoma.
  • Hausa: Girigiri.
  • Togo: Sesonge.
  • Ibibio: Nsana.
  • Yoruba: Sese, Sheshe.

Nutritional and Health Benefits:

Health benefits of African yam bean
Health benefits of African yam bean
  • Fiber:

    African yambean has high dietary fiber content, which makes it important in the management of chronic diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases. It also helps in the reduction of bad cholesterol.


  • Protein:

    African yambean is rich in protein. It contains 15-29% protein in the seeds and tubers. It also has higher Amino acid content that pigeon pea, cowpea, and Bambara nut. African yam bean contains twice the protein in Irish or sweet potato and ten times more protein than cassava.


  • Potassium:

    African yam bean also contains potassium, which helps lower blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels.


  • Iron:

    African yam bean may improve circulation because it contains iron and copper, both necessary for healthy red blood cells.

African yam bean
African yam bean. Credit: happynest_farm (ig)
  • Prebiotic:

    African yam bean contains a type of prebiotic fiber that feeds beneficial gut bacteria and decreases unhealthy bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria reduce the risk of developing obesity, heart disease, and diabetes


  • Aids weight loss:

    African yambean is usually prepared for labourers when they are hired to work on farms. They eat the food in the morning and will keep drinking water without getting famished for a very long time. They refer to the crop as “6 to 6” because when you eat yambean by 6 am while working, you will not need to eat again till 6 pm. So, it makes you feel full for longer, which helps with weight loss.


  • May boost Heart health:

    African yam bean contains a significant amount of soluble dietary fiber, which may help lower cholesterol levels by preventing bile from being reabsorbed in the intestines and preventing the liver from making more cholesterol.

Extremely versatile:

  • In Nigeria, it is roasted and eaten as a snack or cooked as pottage, mixed with oil bean seed and stockfish, and served as a delicacy at festive events.
  • It is also roasted and eaten as a snack with a soft palm kernel.
  • It could be cooked with yam and served as pottage or made into flour and mixed with maize flour to prepare foo-foo.
  • It can be eaten raw too.
  • The seeds may be eaten alone or in soups, and are commonly served with yam, maize, or rice. They are said to be delicious and to be “often preferred over other types of beans.