The Baobab tree is a dominant force on the African landscape in dry areas all over the continent including Madagascar, West Africa, and South Africa. Baobabs also grow in Australia having their seeds transported there from so many generations ago. Over the centuries with trade, Baobab seeds have traveled far and wide to various other countries that share similar climates for the Baobab to grow and to be cherished.
The Baobab can grow to be enormous. Its trunk looks almost swollen and has some of the widest tree trunks in the world, with trunk diameters averaging 23 to 36 feet. The trunk can hold up to 60,000 gallons of rainwater, an incredible resource for both man and animal in the arid climate.
One Baobab tree found in South Africa known as the “Big Baobab” has a circumference of 154 feet (47 meters), and can fit 60 people inside the trunk! How do we know? Because the locals have turned it into a bar called the Big Baobab Bar, so literally you can go enjoy a drink inside the Baobab tree! Not much different than what baobab trees do naturally, which is store massive amounts of water in their trunks to cope with seasonal droughts in arid and dry regions.
Baobabs can grow quite tall as well, reaching heights of 16 to 98 feet, equivalent to approximately an eight-story building. Given that the Baobab tree is a succulent plant, it does not have distinct growth rings typical of hardwood trees. Baobab wood is not good for ordinary timber because it is so fibrous and spongy and is more like balsa wood than hardwood. Historian Thomas Pakenham said about the wood that “you can drive in a nail without a hammer.”
Overall, there are eight species of Adansonia, one in Africa, six in Madagascar and one in Australia. As far as historians know, the genus originated in Madagascar from where the fruits of closely related Protoboab, transported by the ocean currents, reached Australia.
Older Than the History Books
The mighty Baobab tree takes about 15 years to reach maturity and can live for 1,000 years. The leaves have five to seven finger-like leaflets, and is leafless for about 9 months of the year. The Baobab blooms at the end of the dry season. The flowers are large and heavy white, drooping down on long stalks. These beautiful flowers bloom at night and have waxy crinkled petals that surround stamens that look like powder puffs. The Baobab flowers in Madagascar are a bit more colorful with magenta and yellow hues. The Baobab flowers are pollinated at night by bats, giant hawk moths, and mouse lemurs. The bats and the moths come to feed on the sugary nectar and as they go tree to tree, they transfer the pollen. The mouse lemurs feed on the nectar and the moths, transferring the pollen on their fur, thereby pollinating the Baobabs as they travel tree to tree.
The Baobab tree is a tough tree and resists drought, fire, and termites; they simply regrow their bark if it’s stripped. When they die, they simply rot from the inside and suddenly collapse, leaving a heap of fibers. Perhaps it leaves locals to think they just disappear in a poof of magic, leaving just a fibrous heap.
Giving Is Better Than Taking
The Baobab tree is known as the “tree of life” in Africa and rightly so as the different elements of the Baobab tree can be used for myriad applications running from medicinal and nutritional purposes to rope and roofing materials, supporting every day practical needs. Its Latin name is Adansonia digitata, after French botanist Michel Adanson (1727-1806), who concluded that of all trees he studied, the Baobab “is probably the most useful tree in all.” Adanson himself is a testimony to this claim: He consumed Baobab juice twice a day while living in Africa, and he remained convinced that the Baobab maintained his fighting health.
Amazingly, all parts of the tree and fruit can be utilized in some way. The trunks are often hollowed out by people who use them for shelter, grain storage, or as water reservoirs. The hollowed trunks even can serve as burial sites. The bark of the tree contains a fiber that is used to make fishnets, rope, sacks, roofing, and clothing. The leaves of the Baobab can be used as a vegetable. The fruit and the seeds are extremely valuable. The Baobab fruit pulp can be mixed with water, making a beverage that tastes similar to lemonade. The seeds can be roasted or cold pressed into an oil for cosmetic use. Other products such as soap, necklaces, glue, rubber, medicine, and cloth can be produced from different parts of the Baobab tree.
Superfruit Packed With Antioxidants
This sacred tree produces a fruit that ripens into a hard shell that is large and thick; similar to a sweet potato, but hard as wood on the outside. Inside these Baobab pods are brown seeds surrounded by what we call the fruit pulp, which is a pale-colored, naturally dehydrated powder. Within the pod, there also are some fibrous “hairs” that hold the powdery chunks in place. Baobab fruit is called other names including “monkey bread” and “cream of tartar fruit.” Aside from the “tree of life,” other monikers for the Baobab include “upside down tree” (because the branches look like the roots of a tree, just upside down), “bottle tree” (for all the water this tree can hold), and “lemonade tree.”
Historically, the ancient Egyptians used Baobab for treating fevers, dysentery, and bloody wounds. For generations in Africa, Baobab is often given as a calming agent for those with a fever, but also is used to combat diarrhea, dysentery, small pox, and measles. Pregnant women in Gambia use it as an important source of calcium. In addition, the herding people in Africa used the citric and tartaric acids of the pulp as milk-curdling agents.
The nutritional benefits of eating the Baobab fruit powder when measured on a gram to gram basis are astounding: 2.5 times more antioxidants than pomegranates, more antioxidants than that of acai berries, blueberries, cranberries, or most other fruits. Consumption of daily antioxidants slows down oxidative damage that comes from the toxins in our environment, food or water supply, or stress we face. Fighting oxidative damage with antioxidants is important for our vital organs, including our skin. Baobab fruit is also very high in vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that plays an important role in protecting cells and keeping the body healthy. On a gram-to-gram basis, Baobab fruit contains more vitamin C than kiwi, strawberry, orange, or grapefruit. Additionally, it has more potassium than bananas or apricots, more calcium than milk, and more fiber than apples.
In addition, the Baobab seeds are taken and cold pressed into oil for cosmetic applications, supplying nutrients topically to the skin. At powbab, we use 100 percent organic and cold-pressed baobab oil as a replacement for lotions, night time moisturizer, hair conditioner or mix-in with other body care products for added moisturization.
How to Eat Baobab
Raw Baobab fruit pulp is slightly tangy with a very light citrusy flavor. Raw Baobab pulp can be added to everyday cooking and is a versatile fruit that can “hide” in favorite food recipes, adding superfood benefit. Natural Baobab powder can be added easily to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, baked goods including pancakes, bread, cookies and many other recipes. Baobab can be used as a replacement for cream of tartar, a thickener in jams and gravies, or a tangy flavor addition to hot sauces.
As more people around the world discover the amazing superfruit benefits of the Baobab tree, the threat of unfair producers continues to rise. Baobab trees, sometimes 100 feet tall, are harvested by climbing, or with long poles. One person can harvest 120 to 260 pounds in a day and earn an above-average income, providing sustenance and well being. This income is vital for many of these local African villages. Not all Baobab is harvested using fair-trade principles and ethical working conditions, therefore causing significant price differentials on the market. Moreover, unethical trade hurts communities and their families, and stifles creation of a healthy economic ecosystem that rewards responsibility and integrity.
At my company, powbab, our Baobab is sustainably harvested from the wild in Senegal, a country in West Africa. Every part of the fruit is used, and as we consume more Baobab fruit, we place more value on maintaining the health of the tree to produce good fruit; thereby, supporting sustainable harvesting of these ancient Baobab trees now and for future generations to come.
Powbab Pancake Recipe
This recipe takes a comfort food and transforms it into a high-fiber meal, making the appetite feel full and leaving hunger behind.
Makes 3 to 4 Servings
• 3/4 Cup flour
• 1/3 Pack of 0.8 oz powbab organic baobab superfruit powder*
• 1/2 Teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
• 1/2 Teaspoon salt
• Pinch of nutmeg
• Big pinch of cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon stevia powder (optional)
• 1 Egg
• 3/4 Cup whole milk (pasture-fed is best)
• 1/2 Teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 Teaspoons oil (coconut is good)
1. Combine and mix dry ingredients in bowl (flour, powbab baobab, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, optional Stevia).
2. Add in wet ingredients (egg, milk, vanilla extract and oil). Mix together until combined into a batter consistency.
3. Heat a pan or griddle and coat with additional oil if needed. Pour batter into separate pancake shapes on pan.
4. Flip when you start to see holes form on top after a couple of minutes to achieve perfectly golden brown pancakes. Remember the pan gets hotter in later batches so either adjust the burner down or flip them faster!
* Powbab sells raw baobab powder in easy-to-use 5 serving packets; you’ll need half a pack for these pancakes.