Onugbu soup, Igbo soup

Bitter leaf soup (Onugbu soup)

There is nothing delicate or pretentious about Bitter leaf soup (onugbu soup). It is a full bodied soup that will take your tastebuds on a gratifying dining trip.

Bitter leaf soup is an icon of Igbo cuisine, especially to the Anambra Igbos of Eastern Nigeria. It is an embodiment of who they are…Bold and resilient. It is to the Anambra person what Ofe Owerri is to the Owerri person. Bitter leaf soup is what an Anambra woman will cook to show her competence in the kitchen (reminds me of the first time I cooked it). No menu for an occasion for them is complete without onugbu soup and fufu or pounded yam.

Bitter leaf soup (Onugbu soup) is robust, it can withstand burning (like party jollof rice), long storage in the freezer, rewarming several times, even slight fermentation, but too much crayfish will overwhelm it.

Bitter leaf is bitter straight off the plant, it needs to be washed thoroughly to remove the bitterness. There is a method to washing the leaves so that they don’t get broken or shredded into small bits. It is mostly sold partially washed in the markets either dry or fresh.

All you need to do to remove that last bit of bitterness is boil it. Though there are some people who like their Bitter leaf soup (Onugbu soup) slightly bitter.

Ogili isi is the flavour base of Anambra Bitter leaf (Onugbu) soup. It can make or break your pot of soup, so try and use good quality ogili isi made specially for bitter leaf (Onugbu) soup.

To cook Bitter leaf soup (Onugbu Soup):

330g Bitter leaf (onugbu, processed in the market)
Assorted meat (beef, cowskin, tripe, intestines etc)
Dry fish
3-4 cups Palmoil
2 cups cocoyam paste (ede)*
22-25g ogili isi
6 tablespoons ground crayfish
6 scotch bonnet (fresh pepper)
8 cups stock+water 
4 seasoning cubes
  • Wash and boil bitter leaf to remove the last bit of bitterness and soften it. The colour of the leaves will be dull and very slightly browned.
  • Meanwhile, process your cocoyam. Wash and boil cocoyam till soft. Peel and pound with mortar and pestle, blender or food processor. Set aside.
  • Wash dry fish. Soak dry fish in boiling hot water for 2 minutes, drain and rinse well in cold water.
  • Wash and boil meat and stockfish, till almost tender, add dry fish and boil for 5 minutes.

Add enough water to the stock to make up to 8 cups of broth. Bring to a boil.

Add palm oil, bitter leaf, pepper and cocoyam paste in big lumps.

Bitter leaf soup (onugbu soup) in a pot

Bitter leaf soup (onugbu soup) in a pot with lumps of cocoyam

Cook for 5-8 minutes till cocoyam has almost all dissolved and the soup has thickened.

Bitter leaf soup (onugbu soup) in a pot

Reduce heat to medium high and add crayfish, ogili and seasoning cube, stir and taste, add salt.

Bitter leaf soup (onugbu soup) in a pot

Cook till the oil has lost all its raw taste and the taste of the ingredients have blended well, about 8 minutes.

Bitter leaf soup (onugbu soup) in a pot

Reduce the heat further and cook for another 5 minutes, it is a long cooking soup. Take off the heat.

Bitter leaf soup (onugbu soup) in a pot

Serve with any swallow of your choice.

Authentic and easy Bitter leaf soup (onugbu soup)


  • If you prefer your leaves small, then squeeze the washed bitter leaf into a tight lump and shred with a sharp knife.
  • Mixed meat simply means different parts of the cattle put together in a dish e.g, the flesh, tripe, intestine, cow leg, cow skin (kpomo, canda), tongue etc.
  • Bitter leaf soup (onugbu soup) benefits from ‘mixed meat’. When boiling your mixed meat, bear in mind that different parts of the cattle cook at different times, check each part to be sure it is done. If not remove the cooked parts like the flesh and continue cooking the parts that are still tough.
  • The best cut of meat for onugbu soup is the cattle’s hump meat called torso. It is fat marbled, rich tasting and tender. After boiling, you can skim off some of the fat.


cattle hump beef for Bitter leaf soup (onugbu soup)

Please let us know how much you enjoyed your bitter leaf (onugbu soup) in the comments below.

Do you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below.

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  2. Please is there a reason why the cocoyam paste should be in big lumps?
    I can’t see comments 😢

    • Hi Loretta, The best way I can describe it is this: When they are in lumps the cocoyam takes its time to gently dissolve, thickens the soup and gives a good textural feel to the soup but when you blend the cocoyam with water (in a blender), it has the texture and mouth-feel of porridge yam. It is very subtle and better experienced. A discerning palate will know. Also, if the soup is getting too thick, you will be able to remove some of the excess cocoyam.

  3. Is it necessary I use cocoyam? What other thing can I use if I didn’t get cocoyam?

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  14. Looks really delicious . Thank you

  15. Anne-Marie Olisanekwu

    Seriously mouth watering stuff! Gaga you have really excelled. It will be interesting to know what happened the first time you cooked it

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