Authentic Kenyan Ugali Recipe: Step-by-Step Guide

27 March 2023 | Kenyan Recipes

Ugali’s English name is a stiff cornmeal porridge. It is made from maize meal primarily; also made from millet(mtama) sorghum(wimbi) or cassava(muhogo). Ugali can also be made by blending flours from the listed grains. 

It is the staple food in Kenya and common in other Eastern African countries. Different variations of ugali have different names in other countries.

Ugali being pounded and molded
Ugali being pounded and molded

In Tanzania and coastal Kenya, it is known as ‘sima’ or ‘sembe’ In Zimbabwe ‘sadza’. Ugali is normally served with vegetables, eggs, and stews.

In this recipe, we are doing it Kenyan-style


A serving for two: Halve or double as necessary

  •   4½ cups of water
  •  4 cups of maize meal flour 

(you can substitute with yellow cornmeal flour)


  •  Saucepan or pot(sufuria
  •  Wooden stick(mwiko)
  •  Flat Plate
  •  Tongs if necessary


1. In a saucepan or pot boil water over medium heat, cover everything to contain evaporation 

2. Sprinkle a pinch-full of the flour to reduce the boiling time. Adding impurities to water lowers the boiling point

3. Once foaming starts, reduce heat to medium, add 2 cups of flour, and let the mixture bubble slowly but surely till thick and heavy (takes about a minute).

4. Stir around to ensure the mixture is combined and homogeneous, (be careful at this stage as the hot bubbling mixture may splash and burn you) 

5. Reduce heat to low and add the remaining 2 cups of flour; one at a time till fully incorporated, and the bubbling has stopped. 

6. With a cooking stick, scrape the bottom of the pot as well as the sides to prevent sticking and burning

7. Pound the lump while consolidating it into a solid mass for the next 2-3 minutes till a stiff consistency is attained.

8. Mould it into a circular ball( like a dough) by pulling the lump towards the center from all sides

9. Let it cook for another minute till the popcorn-like aroma fills the cooking space. At this point, it’s setting while steaming 

10. Congratulations, you did it 


On a flat surface, place a flat plate in place

-Use a cloth or a pair of tongs to hold the piping hot ugali pot; if your saucepan doesn’t have handles

-Gently flip the pot upside down against the plate; releasing the ugali to the plate

-In the same position cover the ugali with the pot upside down, to keep warm while you are preparing your accompanying stew, curry, vegetables, or eggs

Ugali Accompaniments

The popular combinations to serve ugali with include:

1. Ugali with matumbo

2. Ugali with green vegetables (sukuma wiki, managu)

3. Ugali with beans (stewed)

4. Ugali with fermented milk (mala)

5. Ugali with meat; beef or mutton, (stew or curry form)

6. Ugali with eggs (Kenyan style scrambled with tomatoes)

7. Ugali with pork – This is what I went for here

8. Ugali with chicken

9. Ugali with omena(dagaa) silver cyprinid

10. Ugali with cabbage

11. Ugali samaki (ugali with fish)

12. Ugali with nyama choma

Nutritional Information

Servings: 1 Amount per serving (100g)  Calories 132 Kcal (Sifted Maize Ugali)

% Daily Value* Total Fat 0g 0% Saturated Fat 0g 0% Cholesterol 0mg 0% Sodium 28mg 1% Total Carbohydrate 28g 10% Dietary Fiber 0g 0% Total Sugars 0g   Protein 0g

Vitamin D 0mcg 0% Calcium 28mg 2% Iron 0mg 0% Potassium 9mg 0% *The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

The nutritional information provided is an estimate and may vary based on ingredients, cooking methodology, and quantities used. This should only be used for informational purposes and not for dietary advice. 

How to eat ugali

  1. Ugali is hand-eaten so put away your spoons and forks
  2. Wash your hands, dry them then proceed to pinch a sizeable portion
  3. (about a palm-full).
  4. Mold it in your hands by pressing back fingers against your palm
  5. Flatten the tip between your thumb and second finger; dip the ugali in your stew or scoop your vegetables with it and proceed to bite them together

-Do the same for the remaining ugali in your palm

Ugali Served With Pork Wet Fry
Ugali Served With Pork

Perfect Ugali Making Tips

  1. Cover your boiling water with a lid before it starts boiling to contain evaporation losses
  2. Some people add salt and butter to ugali; this is not very traditional or authentic to any degree. However, if you wanna explore that, add 1 tbsp of butter and a pinch of salt to the boiling water before adding flour. Some add milk, if you using milk reduce the water quantity 
  3. Upon addition of flour, it is necessary to lower the heat. This slows down the instant stiffening to allow your mixture to bubble. Bubbling is essential for great-tasting ugali. Let your ugali bubble till it thickens and sets by itself, the longer it bubbles, the better the results
  4. Spend more time and attention to the pounding phase after all your flour is added, this ensures even cooking and homogeneity. You don’t want dry flour patches inside your ugali
  5. After serving your ugali, let it sit covered for at least 5 minutes before you can dig in. Ugali continues cooking after taking off heat so it will be better if you wait. Also serving straight from the pot may cause burns as it is so hot and hotter on the insides.
  6. Leftover ugali can be eaten with tea for breakfast, just trim off the outer cheese-like rind that forms, and cube ugali into bite-sized pieces. Optionally you can reuse the leftover ugali to make fresh soft ugali. Literally using ugali to make ugali, it is wild if you ask me too. Do the same as you would for accompanying tea, and add the cubes to cold water and bring to a  boil till it disintegrates into a porridge-like consistency like before. Add flour to adjust the thickness and cook as before.
  7. For the best authentic experience use whole grain non-sifted maize meal. They differ in the milling process. Whole grain flour is made by drying maize to a low moisture content and then milling it in a posho mill. This is the procedure in most of rural Kenya. Whole grain ugali makes a firmer ugali packed with roughage and better filling. Sifted flour on the other end is highly processed as bran and germ are removed before milling is done. This results in a finer texture and a more white color, (whole-grain flour makes creamy-colored ugali). However, sifted flour is fortified with vitamins and minerals. The choice will be by personal preferences.

History of Ugali

Ugali came after the introduction of maize to Kenya and  East Africa by the Portuguese in the late 16th Century. Before the introduction of maize(corn), the native cereals to the region were millet and sorghum. Maize was highly adopted due to higher yields compared to millet and sorghum thus more reliability and better food security.

Ugali is believed to have been first made by the Luhya community who were trying to make porridge but it accidentally thickened.


Does ugali have an English name?-There’s no direct translation to English but it can be derived from ingredients; cornmeal mush and stiff cornmeal porridge are the common words

How does ugali taste?– Its texture is doughy but not that sticky, it is definitely starchy. Its flavor is more on the bland or flat side and it is just a filling for stew or veggies, the accompaniment makes it flavorful and brings out its taste

Is Ugali eaten in America?-Definitely yes, especially in regions with heavy East African communities presence. It is even served in restaurants sometimes.

Is Ugali Kenyan or Tanzanian? Ugali is widely eaten in both countries and thus a staple. Kenya has ugali as its national dish while Tanzania doesn’t have one official dish specifically. So I’ll say it’s Kenyan.

Side effects of ugali / Does ugali make one fat? Since ugali is not consumed alone, but instead accompanied by a balanced diet(vitamins and proteins) there should be no side effects. Ugali is a highly starchy dish and when consumed in excess, just like other carbs it results in weight gain. With good practices of moderate eating and exercise, this shouldn’t be a problem.

How long can you keep Ugali? Ugali can keep for 24hrs in a  cool dry place and up to 2 days under refrigeration. After this, ugali will start degrading and developing a bitter taste then releasing moisture while drying out. On day 4 or 5 mold growth will start spreading.

How do you know Ugali is ready? You can tell your ugali is done by texture and aroma. The texture desired will be stiff and ugali will stop sticking on the walls of your cooking pot, and instead, it will stick to itself. Once ugali is done it will start toasting, releasing a popcorn-like aroma that will fill your kitchen.

Does maize flour expire: Yes, processed sifted maize flour has a shelf life of between 6 to 12 months depending on the preservation methods employed.

What is the best maize meal? The best will be established by trying out different brands and getting one that gives you the best results. Generally, millers who use well-dried maize make the best flour.

Why is my Ugali soft: Resulting ugali may be so soft if you don’t use enough flour for the amount of water you chose. Generally, go for 2 cups of flour for 2.5 cups of water. The other reason may be that you didn’t let your ugali bubble before adding extra flour.

How to store flour: You can either fold the packing packet or just transfer your flour to a container with an airtight lid to prevent degradation of your flour by oxidation and moisture. Oxidation will turn your flour color to brown while moisture may lead to the growth of aflatoxin molds which can lead to deadly food poisoning

Is ugali a balanced diet? No, ugali in itself is not a balanced diet. It is just a high-carb dish, served with vegetables, fruits, and proteins to make it a balanced meal.

What is ugali glycemic index(GI)? The glycemic index is how fast a carbohydrate food releases sugar into the bloodstream. High glycemic index foods are bad for diabetes management as they cause sugar level spikes,  lower glycemic index foods release sugar gradually thus commendable.

Ugali GI depends on which grain is used and the processing. Whole grains with fiber will have lower GI than over-processed grains with low fiber.

Compared to other foods, ugali has a lower GI than white rice but higher than boiled tubers like cassava, and arrowroots

Ugali wa nyasi: This is basically ugali made from grass, it is a project by Kabarak University students as an alternative to maize, the flour hasn’t yet been approved by KEBS.

Related Links

I Tried Adding Butter & Salt to Ugali.

Ugali Mayai Recipe: The Saviour of Starving Campus Students

Whole Grain Ugali: Recipe & Discussion

Brown (Millet / Sorghum) Ugali Recipe: Step-by-Step Guide

Ugali Afya: Is This the Healthiest Maize Meal?

(External) Ugali Facts

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