We're heading to a friend's for a Thanksgiving dinner for 60, and it's inspired me to do another week of new foods. (So pardon the plethora of emails if you're automatically subscribed.)
We've been experiencing a lot of new foods here in Africa, some for better, some for worse. Whenever I research a new food (have to make sure it's safe to eat!) I have found most of them are described in the same way: "untapped potential." The infrastructure, shipping, manufacturing, etc, in many African countries does not allow for some of its unique foods to easily make their way to other parts of the world. Yet if they did, there are estimated to be billions of dollars these African countries could be making on their produce. One such product is baobab.
Meet the baobab tree:
(White Zimbabweans pronounce it "bay-oh-bab", while the Shona pronounce it "bow-bohl.") The trees are giant, growing for thousands of years, though dating them is impossible because they do not grow rings the way most other tree species do. The baobab is so big, in fact, that some famous (naturally hollow) baobab trees have been turned into pubs and prisons. (Check out two websites with more info: http://www.southafrica.net/sat/content/en/us/full-article?oid=9417&sn=Detail&pid=1 or http://www.amusingplanet.com/2011/11/sunland-baobab-bar-inside-hollowed-out.html) The baobab stores a great amount of water in its trunk, and can be found on dry plains in Africa where few other trees exist. There are many legends here about the sacred baobab. To name a few: anyone who picks a flower from the tree will be eaten by a lion, if a person drinks baobab seed-soaked water they will be safe from crocodiles, and if a baby drinks a mixture of the baobab bark and water it will grow up mighty and powerful.
Below is the fruit of a baobab with Jonas for proportion:
The fruit is velvety and hard on the outside. Well, not just hard, so hard it has to be broken open with a hammer...
Powder from the fruit immediately pops out.
Above is the baobab fruit once cracked open... The fruit is dry and chalky. The dry, vein-like fibers do not get eaten.
Each separate white piece contains a blackish-brown seed inside.
The white powder is often used as a thickening agent here in southern Africa. It is virtually impossible to find cream of tartar here until baobab season. In the US, cream of tartar is a by-product of making wine from grapes. Here cream of tartar is made from the baobab fruit. There are oodles of other uses: it can be put into porridge or milk to make something called "monkey's bread," used in beer making, soda production, rolled in sugar, and moistened to make juice. The leaves are used medicinally in some cultures and can be eaten raw or cooked. Health benefits: dietary fibers, carbohydrates, iron, vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, B vitamins, iron, and potassium. I like that the fruit has a long shelf life. It can sit, opened, on the counter for a month and still taste the same. A couple pieces of the tartness a day is plenty!