KOLO: The Cherished Ethiopian Snack

koloEthiopianSnack1Ethiopia has an innate and fascinating history of grain based culinary tradition.  Accordingly many Ethiopian knows how to indulge their body and soul with different kinds of nutritious and healthy grains whether by making a national staple food out of it to a simple snack like Kolo – simply roasted grain mix.


Since Kolo has long shelf life, it is usually prepared in bulk, stored in a container and served in smaller portion on a little plate for the household members or esteemed Ethiopian household guests to nibble on delicious roasted grains.

Here in Ethiopia Kolo is usually enjoyed between meals, while having traditional coffee or drinking Ethiopian traditional home brewed beer (Tela).


Barley is the main grain which dominated the combination about 75% in preparing Kolo, Chickpeas and Sunflower seed cover the rest in completing the combination. The right kind of Barley grain which is locally known as Senef Kolo picked from the local market. Skillfully and patiently roasting the grains separately on a large roasting pan, creatively playing with it till it is evenly and beautifully roasted … brings out the delicious nutty flavor, delightful crunchiness and of course the genuine taste of this cherished Ethiopian snack – Kolo.



Within Ethiopian traditional home snack preparing practice, the other interesting detail that needs to be mentioned is the fact that two kind of paste are prepared to add flavor by literally coating the roasted grains with it. For savory flavor – exactly how many Ethiopians like it – the paste is prepared with a little bit of cooking oil and Berbere (Ethiopian spice mix). For a sweet taste, organic honey and crushed Nug (Niger Seed) blend is used.


Here in Addis Ababa and other parts of the country, there are many people who make a living by selling Kolo along the streets and around local open air bars as locals loves to enjoy their locally brewed beer along with home prepared Ethiopian snack – Kolo.

This home prepared Ethiopian snack is also packed and sold in little shops and mini supermarkets here in Addis Ababa. The kind of Kolo or roasted grain mix that usually can be found at these shops are, plain roasted barley grain, chickpeas, sunflower seed and added peanut.

For someone who wants to enjoy a particular Kolo – usually roasted chickpeas – which are separately packed, can also be found at these mini supermarkets.


Kolo is a much cherished travel companion for many Ethiopian travelers. From all travel bundles that many Ethiopian mothers won’t send their children without when they go away from home whether it is to go to school or for work in the other parts of the country or abroad, Kolo is at the top of the list.


In many monasteries around the country Kolo is more than a snack as many Ethiopian monks only eat Kolo especially during lent offerings as it is part of their esteemed religious practice.

koloEthiopianSnack9Kolo is also served as nibbles during special occasions like major Ethiopian holidays, birthdays, religious celebrations and so on. Since Kolo is close to many Ethiopian hearts, it also function as a special gift to send for loved ones who lives far away from home as nibbling on one of the eloquent pieces of Ethiopia definitely ease nostalgia.


Something for the Road…from Ethiopia!

About Sara Genene

I am a traveler... on an endless journey of self-discovery!
This entry was posted in Addis Ababa, Africa, Coffee, culture, Ethiopia, Ethnic Food, Food, Food Travel, snack, Travel, Uncategorized, Vegan Cooking and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to KOLO: The Cherished Ethiopian Snack

  1. Very interesting….!


  2. Reflections says:

    I wish I could make this here in Washington state (US). I love every seed and grain you mentioned and I eat cooked barley for breakfast.

    How long does each grain get cooked or roasted? I would think that each would respond differently to temperature so that is why this mix is not cooked together.

    Thanks for sharing the story and liking my blog. I’m going to read more.




    • Sara Genene says:

      Hi Florence, first thank you for stopping by. Well, that is the reason why it is cooked separately, unfortunately I didn’t get the exact timing but I promise to get back to you on that 🙂


  3. Karl Drobnic says:

    I remember kolo fondly and have even tried to make it myself a few times over the years, but I’ve never been able to get the same taste it had in Ethiopia.


    • Sara Genene says:

      I know Karl, even though Kolo might sound and look simple … there are details that seems like only elder Ethiopian women manage to get it right. Thank you so much for stopping by and kind comment.


  4. jmsabbagh says:

    Looks healthy.Cheers


  5. A lovely series of photos, each one a different composition of grain. I wouldn’t mind a packet to take out today for a day in the Australian bush.


  6. Hi,

    Wow, the timing of your blog is fantastic!

    I have some questions for you about Kolo! I write outdoor cookbooks, and my friend, who is from Ethiopia, recommended I try this recipe as it would make a great trail snack. Unfortunately, I’ve had a difficult time recreating it!

    My first question is, after two purchases, I discovered that I need to purchase Ethiopian barley, not just any barley. Can you tell me if this is the correct barley? I ask, because it looks very different from the final product.

    If this is the correct barley, then all I need to do is put it in a hot roasting pan, or wok, with some oil and berbere and it should “pop” or expand to a more rounded shape? I just tried boiling it and roasting it, which did expand it, but when I tried to roast it, it toughened up again.

    I also had a question about the chick peas. I bought them dried in a bag at the healthfood store, and tried to roast them, but they were as hard as a rock. How do you get them so they are edible? Should I start with the canned kind?

    Finally, I had a question about berbere. I shared the first batch I made with my Ethiopian friend (which was hard as a rock and only good for breaking teeth) and she said the flavor wasn’t right. Do you know of a berbere spice mix we can buy in American that comes close to the authentic taste?

    Thank you so much! 🙂



  7. honour umar says:

    Interesting write up. I cant wait to visit Ethiopia by March to taste it. Thank you for the post. It was worth the time


  8. bkg says:

    Thank you
    Bought one from the market (Elsa Kolo) here in US for my office colleagues. I think they liked it 🙂


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  11. Amanda Sigel says:

    My sister was in Addis Adaba for 2 months and brought this back for me to try. Its delicious. She didnt tell me what it was so I searched and happened upon your page 🙂 lovely blog!


  12. Tom Creesle says:


    I have just returned from a 2 week visit to Ethiopia – and I LOVED it!! The people were so friendly and welcoming, the countryside was amazing (We went somewhere into the middle of the Afar region and Lalibela) and the food was simply fantastic.

    I had a question for you: While in Addis I bought some “Special Kolo” that seems to be some sort of bread cubes with some green and red cubes mixed in. Do you eat this right out of the bag, or is there something I should do to it first?




  13. Tobi says:

    Hi, I am writing from Nigeria. I had this snack for the first time in 2014, thanks to a friend who bought some on his visit to Ethiopia. It had peanuts in it just as you said. It’s not sweet but I got used to the grainy taste. I had to google kolo to understand what its made from. It’s a healthy snack right? Thank you!


  14. Liz Weber says:

    an Ethiopian coworker gave me some elsa Kolo and I am addicted…can it be purchased in the States? If so where…if not I want to import it . Or make it…HELP….sounds like w Americans whant this product…so someone has to carry it. Liz


  15. Beth says:

    Haha, thanks for this. I’m Ethiopian, studying in the US and was trying to explain to my friends what kolo was


  16. D Largent says:

    An Ethiopian man coming to Dallas for the first time brought me a bag of this (mostly barley with peanuts) because we were hosting him for a few days. This stuff is amazing! We love it!

    Liked by 1 person

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  18. Nat says:

    I am with my ethiopian friend eating this. I decided to research and found your page. What a beautiful piece of writing of the culture. Felt touched when it said it’s send as special Gift for loved ones. It was from her brother. It touched my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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  20. amaris says:

    I was born in Ethiopia and loved the traditional food. Kolo is available in Ethiopian stores in America but it does not taste as good as in Ethiopia as it is not as fresh. also available in UAE and other countries

    Liked by 1 person

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