National Geographic : 2010 Sep
PHOTOS: DAVID BRAZIER FOR PHYTOTRADE AFRICA HEALTH Vitamin Tree Within the velvety shell of its coconut-size fruits, Africa's iconic baobab packs a huge amount of nutrition. Its fruit contains six times as much vitamin C as oranges, twice as much calcium as milk, and plenty of B vitamins, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, and antioxidants. Until very recently those nutrients were enjoyed only by locals who ate the fruit fresh or crushed the crumbly pulp to stir into porridge and drinks. Few beyond the continent have been able to taste the baobab's distinctive tart flavor, described by Lucy Welford, of PhytoTrade Africa, as "some- where between grapefruit, pear, and vanilla." Now baobab is headed to stores in Europe and the United States as an ingredient in jams and pepper sauces and, eventually, cereal bars and smoothies. The European Union has approved the sale of baobab food products. Already, women in Malawi are harvesting the fruits for commercial use and earning enough cash to pay children's school fees. Will baobab ever be as trendy as the acai berry? Experts estimate the potential size of the international market at a billion dollars a year. "Baobab is moving from cottage industry into the mainstream," says Malcolm Riley, of the Yozuna jam company in England. He now counts a large chain of British food stores among his customers. "It's got mass potential. " ---Karen E. Lange Women in Malawi gather for export baobab fruits that once might have rotted on the ground. BAOBAB PRODUCTS The powdery white interior of the fruit can be used as an ingredient in many foods. n Jams Rich in pectin, it also works as a thickener for gravy or smoothies. n Fruit drinks Just mix in water and a sweetener. n Hot sauces It adds tangy flavor to fiery toppings.