Baobab: new taste for Europe, trade for Africa

Tue Sep 30, 2008 8:22am EDT
 
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By Pascal Fletcher

DAKAR (Reuters) - Its fruit has a tart, zesty taste -- some say like sherbet. It's highly nutritious, and might be imbued with the souls of dead chieftains. If you live in Europe, it could be headed to a smoothie near you.

The baobab tree -- thick-trunked icon of the African bush -- does not look appetizing. But European firms may soon be using the pulp of its fruit as a flavoring for cereal bars or drinks, after it won European Commission approval as a novel food.

The decision in July has planted the gourd-like fruit on the product development radar of food processors. Trade and development experts hope that move -- a landmark for a wild-harvested fruit -- will also plug millions of poor African bush dwellers into a lucrative, sustainable market.

A 2007 report for Britain's Natural Resources Institute estimated that in southern Africa alone, harvesting the baobab could generate more than $1 billion worth of trade a year and employ over 2.5 million households.

"The potential is huge ... We're quite confident that it's going to represent significant returns for rural producers," said Dr Lucy Welford, marketing manager of PhytoTrade Africa, a trade organization that campaigns for the sustainable use of African natural products.

For centuries, people across Africa have enjoyed the baobab fruit's refreshing vitamin-filled pulp. Naturally dehydrated, it is credited with medicinal properties, ranging from a cure for fever or diarrhea to a calcium-rich pick-me-up.

Plucked from the gnarled, swollen-trunked baobab trees, the large brown pods covered with a velvety fur are often split by hungry children who suck the pulp as a snack.

"I'd say it's somewhere between grapefruit and tamarind as a kind of flavor," said Welford, who expects baobab fruit to be used at first to flavor smoothies and cereal bars. It could also be used in juices, ice-creams and jams or bakery products.   Continued...

 
<p>This undated handout picture shows a baobab fruit split open to show the pulp and seeds. Its fruit has a tart, zesty taste - some say like sherbet. It's highly nutritious, and might be imbued with the souls of dead chieftains. If you live in Europe, it could be headed to a smoothie near you. The baobab tree - thick-trunked icon of the African bush - does not look appetising. But European firms may soon be using the pulp of its fruit as a flavouring for cereal bars or drinks, after it won European Commission approval as a novel food. REUTERS/PhytoTrade Africa</p>