THE BAOBAB: A PECULIAR AFRICAN TREE WITH POTENTIAL
Baobab trees, known for their unusual and larger-than-life appearances, have been utilized by animals and humans for ages. The fruit is now making its way into the international market.
The African Baobab (Andansonia digitata), also known as the Bottle Tree, Upside-down Tree, Boab, or simply the Baobab, is one of eight baobab species worldwide. It is the only species native to mainland Africa; the others are native to Madagascar (six species) and Australia (one species).
The Baobab occurs in dryer habitats of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, commonly found in savanna, scrubland, and semi-desert. It is a massive tree with a thick, swollen trunk. It is the subject of many legends and folklore throughout Africa, and has been utilized by several civilizations in a multitude of ways for centuries.
The baobab’s large, heavy, white flowers are pollinated mainly by fruit bats. The tree produces oblong fruits with a velvety shell and pale pink, dry flesh. Monkeys and baboons often eat the fruit and discard the seeds, aiding in seed dispersal. During the dry season, elephants supplement their diet with the bark, which can regenerate after time.
Humans have been consuming baobab fruit in a variety of ways for years. In Zimbabwe, the fresh fruit is eaten plain, and the pulp is often stirred into porridges. In Sudan, the pulp is mixed with water to form juice. In Botswana, the seeds are soaked in milk, and the milk is left to sour into a type of yogurt known as “Mowana Yogurt.”
Baobab fruit is starting to attract international attention, and rightfully so. It can be considered a “superfood”, among the likes of goji and acai berries, for its high nutrient content. Baobab fruit usually contains a higher percentage of Vitamin C than do oranges, and more calcium than an equivalent amount of cow’s milk. It is also rich in amino acids and antioxidants.
In 2008, dried baobab fruit pulp was authorized in the European Union as a safe food ingredient, and it was later granted GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status in the United States. Baobab fruit pulp can now be found in many health food stores throughout Europe and the United States, and is often used as an ingredient in smoothies and cereal bars. It has a pleasantly tart taste, and is very complimentary and balancing to many sweet dishes and snacks. Baobab ice cream and cheesecake have even made appearances! In Japan, Pepsi Baobab is available as one of the soda’s novelty flavors.
Baobab trees are slow-growing, and their life span often exceeds a thousand years. Since baobabs are not farmed, the fruit must be harvested from wild or semi-feral trees. This presents a potential source of income for local landowners and communities in the developing nations where baobabs grow, as they may be able to sell their harvests for international export. Additionally, baobab harvesting may offer a very sustainable and ecologically friendly alternative to cash crops, which often degrade the soil and can cause a hotbed of issues with local wildlife.
Interested in trying baobab fruit? The following sites provide more information on ordering products, where to buy, and recipe ideas.