A quest to find stone ground artisan flour leads to the discovery of Twajenga in Menengai.
There is no shortage of flour when it comes to Kenyan stores. Sure, you may have some trouble finding good Italian 00 flour if ever you were looking to make an authentic Neapolitan Pizza, but supermarket shelves are lined with a variety of items mostly from large scale industrial producers. When looking for specialty items such as buckwheat and rye, however, finding a local source can be a challenge. Additionally, it is difficult to know where exactly your flour’s raw ingredients come from when purchasing from large brands.
Recently, in a bid to find locally sourced specialty artisan flour, the Greenspoon team travelled to the Menengai crater, a rich agricultural land just ten miles from Nakuru to visit a stone mill run by Martin Baumgaertner.
A mechanical engineer and Catholic brother in his previous life, the German Baumgaertner started Twajenga in 1997. “I used to be a missionary in the Catholic church, then I had an accident in 1994 that changed my life,” he tells us. In 1996, he settled down in Menengai and took up small scale farming, training himself on the basics of farming practices with fellow farmers in the area. Together, they founded Twajenga in 1997 as the farmers were looking for ways to add value to their produce and to make their farming more economically viable.
“We started milling the stone ground wheat flour and were selling it in the market on Saturdays,” recounted Baumgaertner back in 2009. “Mamas would [buy our flour and] come back on the next Saturday [saying…] ‘our children are all smiles because of that nice chapatti!’” Thus, Tabasamu got its name from the Swahili translation of the word ‘smiles’.
The stone mill stands behind an unassuming mabati gate in an enormous open warehouse where a large pile of wheat is drying in the natural heat. Once the grain is as dry as it can possibly get, it is placed into the cleaning machine: a technological behemoth that stands proud in the warehouse. Next to the cleaning machine is a mesmerizing sesame sorting tray and a hypnotic oil extractor that is used to cold-press sunflower seeds into a pure, non-heat-treated oil. The stone mill is a beautifully crafted largely wooden machine imported from Germany. It stands at the end of the container that forms the workshop, humbled by large sacks of flour and busy workers putting grain into the funnel.
Next door, two men are busy making loaves of sourdough bread: one of them paints grease onto a bread baking tin into which he transfers the raw dough before placing it into the oven, and the room is soon enveloped in the delicious smell of baking. “We make large batches and then freeze to use as we need,” explains Baumgaertner of the baking operation. “And of course we make a few extra loaves to give out to our friends, the farmers and other visitors, like yourselves.”
Today, using raw materials grown by small scale farmers in Menengai, Twajenga makes flour from wheat, soya, rye, sunflower kernels and teff, as well as oil from sunflower seeds and baobab seeds. They recently brought in a new and unique polishing machine which cleans the grain to an even higher standard than previously and gets rid of any aflatoxin in the grain. The introduction of this new machine means that they are now able to process Teff at their location. Hailed as a superfood for its high nutrient content, teff is more easily associated with Ethiopian Injera, but is much more versatile and can be used in anything from grain salads to porridge, to gluten-free baking, to making cereals and snack bars.
Our trip to Menengai comes to an end with some sourdough bread, naturally crafted from Tabasamu wheat flour, and a generous helping of butter bought from the local dairy farmer who lives on a hill nearby. Despite making their flour available in retail stores in Nakuru, Tabasamu had been largely unsuccessful in selling their produce in this way. They, therefore, pivoted to selling directly to businesses and bread made from their flour is now available in cafes such as Alexandre and at the Artcaffe chain in Nairobi. You can also get 2kg bags of their flour delivered to you exclusively through Greenspoon.