closeup of African bitterleaf soup

Bitter leaf soup, also known as Ofe Onugbu, is a popular, traditional soup enjoyed by different tribes in Nigeria. It can be eaten with various fufu dishes and is so healthy and satisfying!

Nigerian bitter leaf soup in a white bowl


Bitter leaf soup is a savory and filling Nigerian soup, commonly eaten with fufu. It has a slightly bitter taste but most Nigerians swear by its nutritional and health benefits. This soup is made with a leafy green, native to parts of Africa, known as Bitter leaf.

What Is Bitter Leaf?

Bitter leaf, also known as Vernonia amygdalina, is a plant with a host of health benefits, popularly known for its strong, bitter taste. In Nigeria, bitter leaf is called Onugbu by the Igbos, Ewuro by the Yorubas, and Shuwaka by the Hausa tribe.

Why Is It Called Bitter Leaf?

Well, as the name implies, bitter leaf is actually quite bitter when you taste it. It is not eaten in its raw bitter form because it will be quite unpleasant but is rinsed out several times till the “bitterness” is severely reduced.

The bitter taste is never thoroughly washed off, though; you still taste hints of bitterness when eating this soup. It becomes sort of an acquired taste, the way you also get used to apple cider vinegar or lime.

Health Benefits Of Bitter Leaf

Bitter leaf is very popular in Nigeria and parts of Africa, not only because it is cheap and readily available but also because of its numerous health benefits.

African bitter leaf is used to treat malaria, help lower blood pressure, and treat gut and abdominal issues.

Where Can I Get Bitter Leaf From?

In some African countries, like Nigeria, bitter leaf is very easily available, and you can get it from the marketplace or grow your own. If you live in a country where bitter leaf is not grown, your best bet is to buy it frozen from an African store if there is one near you.

The advantage of buying frozen is that the bitter leaf is already thoroughly washed, which reduces its bitterness and drastically cuts down on prep time.

I like to buy a bunch of frozen bitter leaves and store them in the freezer till I’m ready to cook with them.

Ingredients Used

  • Bitter leaf: You can use fresh, frozen, or dried bitter leaf for this soup.
  • Ground egusi seeds (melon seeds): Egusi seeds are used to thicken the soup. You can also get them from an African store.
  • Meat/proteins: I use beef, but you can use goat meat or any animal protein of choice. To save time, I used cooked beef for this recipe. I also added smoked catfish for variety.
  • Other vegetables: tomatoes, red bell pepper, habanero pepper, onions.
  • Palm oil: Most Nigerian soups are made with palm oil, but you can substitute them with olive oil if that is all you have.
  • Beef stock/broth: You can use water if you don’t have any broth on hand.
  • Spices: cayenne pepper, ground crayfish, bouillon powder, salt.
spices on a white flat plate

How To Cook Bitter Leaf Soup

Prep the vegetables

  1. Chop the onions and blend the tomatoes and pepper with very little water.
  2. If using frozen bitter leaf, let it thaw out for an hour or microwave to thaw it out quickly. Rinse under running water and drain.
  3. If using fresh bitter leaf, wash thoroughly in plenty of water, and a little salt, till it runs clear. This might take a few tries as the water will be foamy in the beginning.

Make the soup

  1. Heat some palm oil in a pot and add some onions. Let the onions sauté for a minute or two.
  2. Pour in the blended tomatoes and peppers and cook for about 5 minutes. Add in the cooked beef, smoked fish, spices, and stock, and simmer for a few minutes.
  3. Pour in the ground egusi seeds and stir. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 mins.
  4. Add the bitter leaf and stir together. Cook on medium-low heat till the bitter leaf is wilted. Serve and enjoy!
steps showing how to prepare Nigerian bitterleaf

Storing And Reheating


Bitter leaf soup stores well in the fridge for up to 5 days, and you can also freeze it for up to 3 months.
To reheat, warm it on the stove with a little water. If previously frozen, let it thaw overnight in the fridge first.

What Can I Eat This Soup With?

This nutritious African soup is commonly eaten with fufu, like eba or pounded yam, but you can also eat it with rice. For a low carb option, I like to eat bitter leaf soup with a healthy keto fufu dish.

Tips When Making Bitter Leaf Soup

  • To save time, I used beef that was already cooked for this recipe. If you need to cook the beef from scratch, add an additional 40 minutes to the total cook time.
  • You don’t have to use beef. Other great options are goat meat, chicken, or fish. You can mix and match and include offal meat like liver or chicken hearts.
  • Add less stock if you want your soup thicker. Add more if you want it a bit more watery.
  • You can use a little water if you don’t have any stock, but you will need to add more spices.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you reduce bitterness in bitter leaf soup?

Bitter leaf is naturally bitter so it has to be thoroughly washed to be edible. Place the leaves in a large bowl of water and add a little salt. Scrub the leaves between your hands and rinse out as the water turns foamy. Continue doing this till the water is clear.

How do you preserve washed bitter leaf?

For long-term storage, store bitter leaf in the freezer. After it has been washed, squeeze out as much water as you can and store it in the freezer in a freezer container.

closeup of African bitterleaf soup

Enjoy these other delectable African soups!