Ghana is one of those wonderful places where the cuisine is naturally gluten-free! From banku to waakye to fufu, your main staples are going to be edible! Sadly, the bread and omelette stations that make for the perfect breakfast, or the guy honking his bicycle horn carrying baked goods (see picture), is not going to be useful to you. Luckily, however, there isn’t a lot of guesswork in Ghanaian cuisine. Basically, if it looks glutenous (read: bread) then it is! Otherwise, you’re safe 🙂 Not much hidden gluten here!
The only place where gluten might be hidden is in the stock used to make soups, which are always served with kenkey, omo tuo, and fufu. MAGGI is the usual brand. To my last check, MAGGI sold in West Africa was gluten-free. However, the ingredients change by region so do your homework before you leave! A quick visit to the Nestle website (the corporation owning Maggi) will help you out here.
As mentioned, most meals are naturally gluten-free. Your major challenge will be breakfast, as bread is often what is available and/or served to expats. Waakye, a rice and beans dish, is popular for breakfast in the north and definitely gluten-free. All of the porridge is gluten-free, including rice porridge and koko (made of cornmeal). However, all of these breakfast goods take time to prepare, so be sure to find a place where you know you can purchase, or plan the night before.
And every once in a while you WILL get lucky with gluten-free snacks. Believe it or not, Ken and I were riding along a dirt road in the Northern Region, passing villages and small towns, when we stopped at a small side-of-the-road shop for water. Imagine what I found…
On the left is the shop where these gluten free cookies were purchased. On the right are, that’s right, my beautiful gluten free cookies. So in Ghana you CAN get lucky! Of course, visiting Shoprite in major cities (Accra, Kumasi, Tamale…) will also heighten your probabilities…but finding these cookies in this obscure shop felt like a goldmine (and in the country that used to be called the Gold Coast no less!!!! coincidence?! I think not!)
If you’re going to Ghana, you’ll be fine being gluten free. Just make sure you stock up on all the beautiful fresh fruit that you can get and really do think through your breakfast options! If you’re anything like me, you wake up quite hungry, and having to wait 40 minutes for someone to make you porridge just won’t cut it! But in a country where potatoes, plantains, fruit, rice, and yams are plentiful, I’d be very surprised if anybody had a problem!
EXTRA WARNING: If you do get invited into a Ghanaian’s home, it is very likely that they will cook for your traditional food. However, in the off chance that they assume that you, the foreigner, would prefer noodles, bread, or cake for dessert, it is wise to give your host a heads up as soon as you receive the invite that you’re allergic to wheat!
The above makes my mouth water. On the left is fufu (mashed flour, often cassava or maize, NEVER wheat) with groundnut soup and goat meat. On the top right we have kenkey (a base of corn flour – compared to sourdough taste – rolled in either a maize husk or banana leaf) with talapia. And the bottom right is a pot of waakye simmering.
Ghana is a fabulous country to visit! If you’re gluten-free, your dietary restrictions won’t hold you back!!!!