Abandon your quinoa, discard your spirolina, throw away your goji berries. There’s a new superfood in town for 2015 and it’s the baobab fruit. And it’s being promoted here, there and everywhere for its health-giving properties.
The baobab fruit is a strange beast, encased in large furry pods that hang from the huge tree’s sparse branches. Crack open a pod and the white powdery fruit tastes like strawberry sherbet. The only fruit that naturally dries before it falls from the tree, baobab also provides a lifeline for rural families in the drylands…
Used fresh to make juice and jam, dried and sprinkled into sauces and stews, the fruit contains potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, calcium and iron in high doses. For the families TREE AID works with, food is scarce from March – September. The baobab fruit can be harvested from May onwards, providing vital nutrients when there is not much else is available in the landscape.
But it is not only the fruit that helps guard against malnutrition for families. The leaves are also highly nutritious and extremely versatile. With high levels of vitamin C, potassium and calcium, leaves can be picked from young trees that are just a year old: carefully managed a baobab nursery can provide a village with essential nutrients all year round. As the trees mature they produce more leaves, and then go on to produce the fruit – adding to nature’s nutritional larder.
Leaves are eaten fresh like spinach, dried in sauces, or pounded to make a flour. The flour can be sprinkled like a condiment onto any meal to add nutrients. This is particularly useful for feeding infants and young children, helping to nourish those most at risk of severe malnutrition in some of the poorest countries in the world.
Baobab fruits and leaves are ideal products for villagers to sell in the market. Extremely light to transport and easily dried, they can be made available year round. TREE AID trains women to set up small businesses based on selling baobab. While baobab trees are plentiful throughout the drylands (and becoming more so thanks to TREE AID’s work supporting village tree nurseries to grow them) there is high demand for baobab products in towns and cities.
For rural women selling baobab makes a huge difference to daily life. The cash earned means mothers can buy stocks of staple foods like rice and millet to feed their families all year round. TREE AID has helped families in Burkina Faso to increase their household income by 37% – a massive impact for families who do not have enough to eat for up to six months of every year.
Living for hundreds of years, the baobab is similar to our English oak. As baobab trees age, their trunks become hollow, providing shelter for wildlife. The baobab’s huge trunk can hold gallons of water, helping it to survive through the months of scorching temperatures and lack of rain that characterise the drylands climate.
So sip your baobab smoothie, sprinkle the powder on your porridge and join generations of African families in enjoying this truly super food.
By Sarah Moore, TREE AID’s Fundraising Manager.