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Baobab: ancient fruit in modern times

They emerge from their extravagantly showy white flowers in December and take six months to grow into the superfruit that’s being celebrated around the world. In February they are still growing and the fruit are soft and green. The inside of the fruit is wet and pulpy, providing an ideal environment for the seeds to grow and mature. By May they start to dry out and drop off the trees which is when they are harvested.  EcoProducts only ever harvests the fallen fruit so that the parent tree is protected from damage.

In our modern world we tend to eat fruit and vegetables from plants that are relatively young – fruit trees don’t normally grow beyond 100 years at most, and even the oldest recorded vines are only about 245 years old )  The older the plant, the less productive it is and so becomes less viable commercially.

But the baobab tree only begins bearing fruit when it’s 200 years old! And baobab trees grow to well over 1000 years old.

It can take a Baobab tree this long before it produces its first green-brown velvety pod-shaped fruit.  January is when Baobabs start to fruit and fruit production is highly variable between trees. Some trees never produce fruit even though they flower every year. Some trees produce only a few fruit a year and others produce huge quantities. Dr Sarah Venter is one of the few baobab ecologists in the world who monitors baobab tree fruit production and she has been doing so in Venda, Limpopo for the last 8 years.  She has recorded a record 1200 fruit on one tree, but this was highly unusual. Mostly they average about 65 fruit per tree per year.

What is unique about the baobab fruit is that it dries out completely while still on the tree.  This means that minimal processing is required so all its significant nutrient values remain intact. The small dark brown seeds are separated from the pale, peach-tinted powdery pulp. Then the powder is sieved finely, and packaged for consumption.  The seeds are cold-pressed to produce a wonderful rich golden oil prized by cosmetic and skin care producers.

One can’t help but wonder whether there isn’t some special quality which comes from eating the fruit grown by such very ancient trees.

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