Baobab: A recent contender for the title "super-fruit" from Africa

baobab fruit

Baoabab fruit inside the outer shell. Picture by JackieR, (license: Creative Commons 2.5 Attribution in header, also)

Baobab by any other name is just as nutritious

Scientific name for the baobab tree: Adansonia digitata L.

Common Names (English): Baobab, Monkey bread tree, Ethiopian sour gourd, Cream of tartar tree, Senegal calabash(fruit), Upside-down tree, bottle tree [1,2]

The Baobab Tree [2]

Adansonia digitata L. (Bombacaceae family) characterized by an unusual, swollen, relatively short, bottle shaped trunk (about 15 m in height) in which spongy fibers store water for the dry season. For this reason, it is also called “bottle tree”. The mature circumference can exceed 20 m; the diameter at chest height is about 10 m. The crown is rounded and shows a stiff branching habit. The tree has an extensive lateral root system, which pro-duces tubers at the end. African baobab is a very long-living tree. It normally lives for about 500 years, but it is believed that some trees are up to 5000 years old.

Adansonia digitata is widely spread over the African savanna through natural re-production. Wild animals open the fruits to eat the pulp. The seeds pass through the digestive tract of the animals, which breaks the dormancy.

The species has not commonly been cultivated, partly because of the reputation for growing slowly. Harvesting the fruit does not affect the species. Near villages, transplanting naturally germinated seedlings has traditionally propagated baobab.

Baobab Fruit [2]

The ripe fruit pulp is naturally dehydrated and ivory coloured. It appears as a dry, mealy powder. Baobab is a popular food source. The fruit pulp is commonly sucked, chewed or made into a drink when mixed with water or milk, either with or without sugar, or as a supplement to mix with staple food such as corn meal and cassava. Other uses for baobab pulp include sauces for food, hair rinse, milk curdling agent and a sub-stitute for cream of tartar, among other things. When burned, it is a good repellent for cattle flies (Kurebgaseka, 2005).

The pulp is very nutritious. Arnold et al. (1985) reported that with an average of 8.7% moisture, the pulp contains about 74% carbohydrates, 3% proteins, 9% fi-bers, 6% ash and only 0.2% fat. The content of pectin is approximately 56% (Nour et al., 1980), which is why the pulp is traditionally used as a base for jam making. It is also characterized by a high vitamin C (ascorbic acid), calcium, phosphorus and potassium content. The acidulous taste is attributed to the presence of organic acids, such as citric acid, tartaric acid, malic acid and succinic acid.

Baobab fruit pulp has a particularly high antioxidant capability mainly because of its high natural vitamin C content, which is equivalent to 6 oranges per 100 g. Anti-oxidants protect the cells of organisms from damage by free radicals. A deficiency of vitamin C weakens the immune system and promotes the susceptibility to disease. Deficiency of vitamin C also results in scurvy. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for ascorbic acid is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men. If we consider that baobab has an ascorbic acid content of 300 mg per 100 g pulp, the oral intake of 25 and 30 g respectively is able to provide to the daily vitamin C allowance required by humans. Additionally, vitamin C aids the bodily uptake of iron and calcium, of which the fruit pulp contains more than double than the same amount of milk. Therefore, in some areas, it is used as a milk substitute for babies.

Nutritional Summary, reproduced from [2]

Analysis of Baobab Fruit Pulp (mg/100 g)

Protein 2.3
Lipids 0.27
Soluble and insoluble Fibers 52.0
Carbohydrates 75.6
Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) 280-300 (to compare: 51 in oranges**)
Calcium 293 (to compare: 125 in milk**)
Potassium 2.31
Phosphorus 96-118

Source: Manfredini et al., 2002; ** Täufel et al., 1993.

In private correspondence, Manfredini stated that the ORAC for the fruit pulp was as high as 160 micromoles Trolox equivalent per gram.

Domestic (African) Uses [1]

The dry pulp is either eaten fresh or used to add to gruels on cooling after cooking – a good way of preserving the vitamin contents. It can also be ground to make a refreshing drink with a pleasing wine-gum flavour. In Tanzania, it is added to aid fermentation of sugar cane for beer making (Fleuret, 1980).

When the fruit is ripe, the pulp is removed from the fibres and seeds by kneading in cold water: the resulting emulsion is seived. This is then added to thick grain preparations to make thinner gruels. The cattle-owning Fulani and the Hausa of northern Nigeria use the fruit pulp emulsion to mix with milk as a drink.

Pulp can be stored for fairly long periods for use in soft drink production but it needs airtight containers. Storage is improved by the use of sodium metabisulphite (Ibiyemi et al., 1988). It can also be frozen if ground to a powder (Obizoba and Amaechi, 1993). Baobab powder mixtures are commonly available in many public markets but quality can be poor and some can be fraudulent.

Fruit pulp is usually sundried, but occasionally fermented, for use in cooking.

Uses in the US and Europe [2]

Baobab fruit pulp, due to the combination of health claims (such as prebiotic and antioxidant functions, the high calcium content, and the inflammation limiting func-tion) and foodtechnological functions (because of its high pectin and fiber content, baobab fruit pulp gives beverages a thicker consistency and can be also used as filler), is a very interesting candidate for a new generation of functional foods and drinks.

Baobab fruit pulp can be particularly interesting as an ingredient for smoothies, which are a kind of thick fruit juice with a high content of fruit pulp.

From [3]in July 2008, "An exotic fruit with six times the vitamin C of an orange can be sold in Britain after an EU ruling. Baobab fruit, which looks like a coconut, has twice as much calcium as milk and is very high in anti-oxidants, iron and potassium. It will not be sold as a whole fruit as the shell is too hard to crack, instead it will be available in cereal bars and smoothies. The fruit had not been allowed into the UK because legislation prevents the importation of food which have not been commonly consumed in the EU before 1997. All new foods have to be formally approved before they can go on sale. The baobab fruit won approval following heavy lobbying from PhytoTrade Africa, an organisation that promotes fair trade."

Reference 1: BAOBAB, Adansonia digitata L.,M. Sidibe and J. T. Williams, et. al., International Center for Underutilised Crops, 2002

Reference 2: UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE ON TRADE AND DEVELOPMENT, Market Brief in the European Union for selected natural ingredients derived from native species, Adansonia digitata L. Baobab, Written by Dr. Joerg Gruenwald and Dipl. Ing.- agr. Mathias Galizia, 2005

Reference 3: Telegraph, UK, July 15, 2008