Baobab: The Tree of Life
Updated: Dec 16, 2018
You may be asking yourself, what in the world is a Baobab? Believe me I was asking myself the same question two years ago at a Senegalese restaurant in Madrid's multicultural district. I looked at the menu and saw a drink named "Bouye" and the ingredients listed: Baobab and milk. I thought to myself what an interesting combination, and as a veteran foodie, I had to try it. A few moments later the drink came out and as I tasted it my palette was jumping for joy. It was delicious and so unexpected! I had never come across anything like it. I became more curious about this mysterious ingredient so I started to do my own research on the Baobab. What I found was intriguing.
The Baobab is a jack (a tree rather) of all trades that grows in the most arid regions of Africa, Arabia, and Australia. It is known as the "Tree of Life" due to the fact that every piece of it has a purpose, namely nutritional and medicinal. The Baobabs are revered by the communities that surround them and they are often believed to house spirits of community ancestors. They are even common meeting places for community leaders to discuss important issues. Baobab trees are gigantic reaching heights up to 98ft with trunk diameters of up to 36ft. If you have ever stood next to one, it is certainly an unforgettable experience! The branches have a root-like appearance making it notorious as the "upside down" tree. Baobabs are often thousands of years old making it one of the oldest living species on Earth!
Baobab fruit is oval shaped with a fuzzy green coating (it can cause you to itch so be careful when you handle one). It has a hard shell similar to that of a coconut, but a little less durable and it takes less force to crack it open. Inside you will find the Baobab fruit pulp which is white in color with copper colored fibers surrounding it. Underneath the pulp are the Baobab seeds which are small and range from brown to black in color. The fruit pulp is used to make Baobab fruit powder and the seeds are cold-pressed to make Baobab oil.
Baobab leaves are the most nutritious part of the tree containing essential amino acids, vitamin A, and various minerals. Baobab leaves are often turned into Baobab leaf powder which is used to thicken soups such as Tuwo de Kuka (from Nigeria) and add flavor to grains such as cous cous. They are a staple food in the regions that they grow especially in northern Nigeria and northern Ghana. The leaves are also used in cosmetic products such as soaps and skin creams.
The Bark & Roots:
The bark from the Baobab tree is used for its medicinal properties which help to cure fevers, cleanse sores, relieve toothache pain, and is even used as an antidote for some poisons! The durable and fibrous bark is also used to make objects ranging from ropes, clothes, baskets, and mats. Baobab bark regenerates itself so long as you take it off carefully and let it grow back peacefully. Similar to the bark, Baobab roots are used medicinally in tonics for malaria. In some countries, a washing agent is made from the roots to bathe babies in order to promote smooth skin.
Baobab trees have been used in numerous ways for thousands of years, and there is no surprise why it is called the tree of life!
Sources: Adansonia digitata L. A review of traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology.