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Baobab Trees

Author: PhytoTrade Africa

( Article Type: Explanation )

Botanical name:Adansonia digitata
Family: Bombacaceae
Common names: Baobab, Cream of tartar, Monkey Bread Tree, Upside-down Tree

The Latin name for Baobab, Adansonia digitata, is in honour of the French botanist, Michel Adanson, who concluded that out of all the trees he had studied, the Baobab, 'is probably the most useful tree in all'. M. Adanson is himself testimony to this claim;; he consumed Baobab juice twice a day, throughout his 5 years in Senegal and remained convinced that this maintained his fighting health.

The discovery of Baobab fruits in ancient Egyptian tombs has demonstrated how prized these fruits were, however they were notoriously difficult to acquire, since the Eyptians were reliant on traders travelling the caravan route from Sudan.

It seems that the commonly used European name, Baobab, originated from the Cairo merchant's usage of the word, bu hobab, for a fruit (and tree) not indigenous to Egypt. The Egyptians found a niche for the Baobab Fruit Pulp in Europe where the powdered product formed a competitive rival to the tablet terra lemnia, a sacred sealed earth, used to cure those consumed by poison.

However, it is also impressive in terms of both stature and age; the tree may grow to 24 m in height, the swollen trunks can reach up to 25 m in circumference and the oldest is reputed to have lived for over 6,000 years. M. Adanson based the age of one tree on 14th and 15th century medieval names that had been carved into the trunk and subsequently elongated with the growth of the tree.

The Baobab's famous silhouette has become legendary, generating the common name, 'the upside-down tree', to describe the unusual root-like branches which are seasonally devoid of foliage.

The deciduous Baobab has digitate leaves (hand-shaped) and the bark is smooth and grey. The white flowers are nocturnally pollinated by fruit bats and it has been suggested that bush babies may also help in the pollination process. The ovoid fruits have a hard woody shell covered in a velvety down of yellowish-green hairs. Inside its shell, the fruit contains a number of seeds, embedded in a whitish, powdery pulp.

Photo Courtesy - Phytotrade Africa


Distribution

The baobab tree is found throughout Africa, generally at low altitudes and in the hotter, drier areas. In fact, so widespread is the tree that, to many people, it is an icon, symbolic of the continent itself. It is found, in abundant groves, across each of the five countries from which PhytoTrade Africa members are drawn.

Traditional uses

The medicinal uses of the Baobab fruit were first officially praised by the Venetian herbalist and physician Prospero Alpini, in 1592, who noted that the ancient Egyptians used it for treating fevers, dysentery and bloody wounds. However, even prior to Alpini's writings, the fruit has had a long history of both nutritional and medical usage in Africa.

A cool drink is made out of the pulp which makes for a refreshing break. The traditional way of making this popular, Vitamin C packed, drink is to shave the hairy surface of the fruit pod by rubbing sand over it. Red hot charcoals are then placed on the end of the pod and they are fanned so that their increasing heat burns a hole into the central chamber where the pulp is contained. Once the hole is made, then water is poured into the chamber and a finely etched stick is fitted into the hole as a mixer. After mixing, sugar is added to the water pulp mixture. This lemonade type drink is consumed both by the healthy and the sick. It is often given as a calming agent for those with a fever but is also used to combat diarrhoeaa, dysentery, small pox, measles and haemoptysis.

The sour fruit pulp can be eaten raw or used as an ingredient to diversify the taste of staples such as cassava, millet and porridge. Pregnant and lactating women in The Gambia use it as an important source of Calcium. In addition, the herding peoples in Africa use the citric and tartaric acids of the pulp as milk curdling agents.

Technical characteristics

Scientific tests have shown that Baobab fruit pulp is a very important nutritional supplement, as well as showing interesting medicinal properties. Most significant is the Integral Antioxidant Capacity (IAC), (11.1mmol/g) which is 10x higher that of orange pulp. This is due to the abundant presence of ascorbic, citric, malic and succinic acids.

To meet the daily RDA for Vitamin C, it is only necessary to consume 23g of Baobab fruit pulp, whilst consumption of 50g of the pulp will entirely saturate the body's Vitamin C pool. Other essential vitamins present are riboflavin and niacin.

The antioxidants are essential for protection against free radicals; maintenance of metabolic processes; synthesis of steroidal hormones, connective tissue, assisting neurostrasmitters and preventing degenerative diseases; as well as increasing the body's ability to absorb calcium and iron.

The pulp has also proven to stimulate intestinal microflora making it a potential prebiotic ingredient.

In addition, the pulp contains 23% pectin making it an important binding and diluting ingredient. The pulp has proven to remain stable in air tight containers for very long periods, despite its own moisture levels. Tests have also confirmed its importance as an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antipyretic and analgesic agent.

Other properties include:

  • Anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic properties
  • Gelling and viscosity modification
  • Antioxidant (greater than OPC's)

Possible applications

Baobab fruit pulp can be used in product formulation to provide nutritional fortification, flavour enhancement, viscosity and texture modification, and as a source of dietary fibre and nutrients. Specific applications could include:

  • Soft drinks
  • Snack bars, breakfast cereals, biscuits and snacks
  • Natural fruit smoothies
  • Health supplements, botanical extracts including antioxidants
  • Fruit fillings, jams, sauces, puddings and desserts
  • Various active cosmetic uses, including antioxidant