Eating in or dining out: Why you should eat isombe

Isombe, made from cassava leaves, is very nutritious. Net photo

It originally came from DR Congo, however, isombe became a classic Rwandan dish served from mashed cassava leaves. 

Depending on one’s preference, isombe can be prepared with other ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, coriander, garlic, Maggi seasoning, and peanut butter, among others.

Isombe stew often has a meaty flavour due to the usage of stock from boiled beef bones.

Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist at Amazon Nutrition Cabinet, a clinic in Kigali, says isombe is a healthy dish for everyone as it comes nutritional benefits. 

He says it has chlorophyll, a green pigment, and it’s a chemical found in food that helps in preventing cancer.

Isombe has iron, and Kamanzi says that people with anaemia should consume it because it can help prevent and also manage the condition

Besides, he says it also has a lot of mineral salts like manganese, copper, sulphur, which are essential minerals that the body needs for its metabolism.

The magnesium in isombe improves the cardiac muscles. 

“Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system,” he says.

He further adds that magnesium keeps the heartbeat steady, and helps bones remain strong. It also helps adjust blood glucose levels. It aids in the production of energy and protein.

Emmy Ntamanga, a Kigali-based nutritionist, says the leaves contain a mineral salt known as cobalt, which is necessary and plays a role in making enzymes that are essential in helping energy production in the body.

He says cobalt is used in the body to help absorb and process vitamin B12. In addition, cobalt helps treat illnesses such as anaemia and certain infectious diseases. 

Cobalt also aids in the repair of myelin, which surrounds and protects nerve cells. It helps in the formation of haemoglobin (red blood cells), among other health benefits.

Bonheur Muvandimwe, a nutritionist student, says isombe helps stimulate breast milk for the baby, thus highly recommended for lactating mothers.


When preparing isombe, Kamanzi says one doesn’t need to cover it with a lid. He says it should be prepared while open for the cyanide gas to evaporate. 

Cyanide is a rapidly acting, potentially deadly chemical that can exist in various forms. Cyanide can be a colourless gas, such as hydrogen cyanide (HCN) or cyanogen chloride (CNCl), or a crystal form such as sodium cyanide (NaCN) or potassium cyanide (KCN).

This gas, he says, it’s not good when consumed, therefore, allowing it to evaporate as vapour is important—and this can only be achieved if isombe is cooked while open or overcooked, which is not recommended.

The gas, he says, can change the activity of the body.

“A few people are aware of this, but isombe shouldn’t be covered during preparation as it will overcook, which is not ideal,” he says.

However, he says to maintain the nutrients, cooking while open for about 45 minutes is essential. 

Overcooking he says weakens the power of the minerals salts and vitamins, as the minerals found in the leaves are water-soluble.

When isombe is cooked under 45 minutes, it retains its green colour, and nutritional value.

Isombe being in the group of vegetables, Ntamanga says, one can eat them with other foods such as bananas, Irish potatoes, rice and that for a balanced diet, serving with grounded nuts or meat is fundamental.

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