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Fermented Corn Dough Recipe

Typically made with white cornmeal in Ghana, this traditional corn ferment is versatile.

| June 2019

Photo by Getty Images/yelo34

Fermentation is an important culinary technique in tropical countries such as Ghana, especially of starches such as maize (corn) and cassava (also called yucca or manioc). While it is easy to buy freshly prepared corn dough or cassava dough in Ghana, in North America there are generally three choices: 1) make your own; 2) buy an imported “instant powder” version; 3) buy pre-frozen dough from Ghana. For many years, my only option was to make my own, but today with advances in processing techniques and transportation, I am more likely to buy frozen dough, such as Nina’s fermented corn meal (no cassava) or corn and cassava dough. I still find the instant powders do not suit me. Note: While banku in Ghana is made from both corn and cassava dough, in the U.S. I was taught to make it only with corn dough, which was easily available. I follow that custom here.

In case you do not have access to imports, the traditional “Western” way of making your own dough is given here.

Fermented Corn Dough (Banku)

When I was first married, I tried valiantly to ferment masa harina, only to discover that the lime processing of that flour prohibited fermentation from taking place. Here is one way to make your own dough. Note that it takes several days before the fermented dough is ready to use. While people generally prefer white cornmeal in Ghana, yellow cornmeal may be substituted.


  • 3 cups white Indian Head cornmeal or similar stone ground cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch


  1. Put 3 cups of cornmeal into a nonreactive container, like glass or ceramic. Add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and mix them together well using a wire whisk.
  2. Add 2-1/2 to 3 cups of lukewarm water (use a little more if the dough seems very dry). Mix thoroughly with a whisk, cover lightly with a cloth or paper towel and leave to sit in a warm place (counter, stovetop, or oven) for several days, stirring once a day.
  3. The dough should begin to bubble up as it ferments. If any mold forms on top, carefully scrape it off. The longer it ferments, the sourer it will become. I usually give mine about 3 days, depending on how warm the weather is. (Some people suggest adding a little vinegar to get the sour taste, but I do not.)

I once asked a food scientist in Ghana why the fermented corn dough in Ghana tastes different from the one I make here in the U.S. I already knew that the dry milled corn flour was coarser than the wet milled corn found in Ghana. He explained that it may partially be because they are different varieties of corn and different bacteria, but primarily because the starches change to sugar differently in the unground and ground corns. Finally, while some people express (possibly excessive) concern about possible aflatoxins on corn that has not been properly dried and processed, this is not a problem for commercially available cornmeal in the United States.

 More from The Ghana Cookbook:

Cover courtesy of Hippocrene Books



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