Is your pap not cooking properly? We reveal the problem

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‘Pap now takes forever to cook these days,  I even had to cook rice for my guests who mostly prefer pap yesterday,’ said Londeka Mjiyak.
‘Pap now takes forever to cook these days, I even had to cook rice for my guests who mostly prefer pap yesterday,’ said Londeka Mjiyak.
Moeketsi Mamane

Is your pap also not cooking properly?

This question keeps popping up on social networks recently.

Many people are complaining that their mielie meal dishes take longer to cook and taste raw.

The strange thing is that people are not complaining about just one brand, but mielie meal in general. Weird, right?

Mielie meal is one of the commonest and most affordable foods in SA and can be prepared in various ways, such as uphuthu, pap, porridge and so on. So, it does make sense that everyone is up in arms about the sudden strangeness of the way the food cooks up.

“It definitely tastes raw. I started to doubt my amazing cooking skills, [meanwhile] it’s the mpuphu [mielie meal].”
Facebook comment by Neliswa Mntungwa

The mystery of the “uncookable” mielie meal was first raised by Twitter user @Zamathenjwa in August when she posted a question asking if anyone knew why uphuthu wasn’t cooking properly anymore.

Most of the responses were from people experiencing the same problem, with some saying they were starting to doubt their cooking skills.

“Yes, I found the exact same thing. I’ve always bought [the same mielie meal], but lately the pap is revolting. It stays raw and becomes a sticky mush ... Why are they doing this to us,” wrote Shannon Barnard on Twitter.

There was also an outcry on Facebook. Some people even lodged formal complaints with different mielie meal manufacturers.

Commenting on The Witness Facebook page, Neliswa Mntungwa said: “It definitely tastes raw. I started to doubt my amazing cooking skills, [meanwhile] it’s the mpuphu [mielie meal].”

“We’ve tried using different brands but it’s still the same.”
Local resident Nestar Zuma

Bronwynne Winfield said: “Made phuthu and it was not cooked. I couldn’t understand what I’d done wrong.”

Sechaba Ndlovu said: “I thought it’s a Cape Town problem. Was thinking of bringing a 10 kg from Underberg.”

A local woman, Nestar Zuma, told Weekend Witness that she, her friends and neighbours have been knocking their heads trying to figure out what the problem was and if there was another brand they could switch to.

“We’ve tried using different brands but it’s still the same,” she said.

Despite all the complaints, there were a few people who said their mielie meal dishes were still cooking normally.

“I’ve heard people complaining about this, but I honestly haven’t had this problem,” said a local professional chef, Nonjabulo Nzuza.

“These tests have confirmed that this is related to the new 2020 maize harvest, and work on this is ongoing.”
White Star Super Maize Meal

Boikanyo Mokgatle, executive director for the National Chamber of Milling (NCM) South Africa, said they have noted concerns raised on the social media networks and escalated these to a broader maize industry stakeholder forum for consultation to identify the problem and causes of concerns relating to maize meal cooking properties.

Mokgatle said the matter is a work in progress, addressed at the industry value chain structure.

However, well-known mielie meal brand White Star Super Maize Meal took to their Facebook page to respond to concerns raised by their customers.

White Star said after this came to their attention, their teams have investigated the possible causes of the perceived longer cooking times of their mielie meal.

“These tests have confirmed that this is related to the new 2020 maize harvest, and work on this is ongoing.

“The good news is that by reducing the amount of water used in cooking by 15%-20%, and cooking the super maize meal a bit longer than usual, the end product is greatly improved.”
White Star Super Maize Meal

“All maize meal producers in South Africa are experiencing similar challenges. Industry bodies, including the Chamber of Milling and the South African Grain Laboratory, are engaged in technical research to assess the 2020 maize harvest quality and the impact on, amongst others, super maize meal products.”

White Star said their technical department has found indications of early sprouting in mealie cobs.

“This sprouting damages starch components in the maize kernel, which in turn influences the quality of cooking, making the finished product appear more watery. This poses no health risk at all.

“We have been experimenting in our Test Kitchen and the good news is that by reducing the amount of water used in cooking by 15%-20%, and cooking the super maize meal a bit longer than usual, the end product is greatly improved and as you have always enjoyed it,” said White Star.

There you have it, mystery solved.


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