The mythology invariably features an exasperated or petty god, a disgusted animal or a vain tree. Something happens that reflects badly on the tree which results in it being planted upside down. The story then ends as an ode to the many health giving qualities of said tree, presumably to make up for the fact that it is forced to live a life looking ungainly and upside down.
There are so many African stories surrounding the birth of the baobab. From Senegal through Mali, Southern Africa and up and down the Horn, baobab origin legends are creative, mystical and always told with a certain amount of awe. And quite rightly so: whoever has stepped over the massive roots of a baobab, in the shade of its huge gnarly trunk, cannot fail to be struck by how majestic and solemn it looks. Although there appears to be little literature on the matter, it would seem that ancient Swahili settlements were often built around baobabs. Testament to this can be found up and down the coast: from Manda Toto island in Lamu, to the Gede and Jumba la Mtwana ruins in Kilifi county, each of these villages contain a massive baobab that witnessed their rise, fall and subsequent crumble. It is said that baobabs can live up to 2,000 years, grow to over 20 metres in height and 18 metres in diameter.
Baobabs today are rising to prominence not only across the continent but worldwide. Instead of a divine mythology though, they are now imbued with the beneficial antioxidant attributes commonly ascribed to the different varieties of super fruits that are popular today amongst people keen to maintain a healthy diet.
An extensive study made by Oxford Brookes university demonstrated that Baobab fruit is a vitamin and mineral powerhouse. Gram for gram, the chalky white pulp has up to five times the vitamin C content of an orange and concentrated amounts of calcium, magnesium and iron.
It has taken a while for Kenya to catch up with the baobab fruit game. Half a decade ago you would be pushed to find it for sale anywhere. Sure, you could get sugary mabuyu sweets on every street corner but nothing with that much sugar and food colouring can be considered healthy. Today this is no longer the case: different brands are popping up in health shops and even on our supermarket shelves. Producers too are beginning to catch on and up and down the coast, from September to November, people have begun to harvest this natural bounty in earnest.
Founded in Kilifi in 2006 by one Rob Barnett and Anthony Maina, Wild Living is a company dedicated providing land use models to create tangible livelihoods for local communities. The company specialises in making eco briquettes, oil extraction, herbal medicines, sustainable hard wood supplies and baobab processing.
“We run a small scale harvesting operation” says Hassan Charoa Nyundo, the company’s marketing assistant. “Most of our baobabs are picked on one plantation by a couple of guys”. The process, as Nyundo explains, involves the harvesters breaking the baobab’s velvety pods on the spot and placing the flesh into sacks, from whence they are then transported to the processing facility where they are spread out to dry on polythene sheets. Once dry, the fibrous matter is removed, the seeds separated and the pulp gently pound to a powder in a large pestle and mortar.
One of the great things about baobab pulp is that it doesn’t need to be heated during processing. This means that when you use it as a supplement you are getting its full health benefits, without them having been altered in the process. Foodies and nutritionists alike, highly recommend adding it to smoothies and fruit salads to give them an extra boost.
“I have always loved sucking on baobab seeds” says Nyundo, adding that he makes sure there is always baobab lemonade available around the house for his children, “I even add it in my soups!” he smiles.
The possibilities for adding baobab to foods seem endless. Basically anything that could benefit from a bit of lemony tartness will work brilliantly with baobab powder. This means it is not only good for you but delicious too! As it looks poised to take over the super fruit market with a vengeance, baobab powder might end up becoming a new important Kenyan export. Let’s just hope they leave some for our domestic consumption.
Photo credit: Katy Fentress
This article originally appeared on Yummy Magazine in January 2016