A couple of months ago, my friend and I were walking our dogs off leash. Modigi, my mutt, is a superb scavenger who always seems to find some stinky carcass to snack on, which in Niger includes snake heads, lizard jerky, and flattened toads. This time, she came bounding up to me with what I thought was a very stiff dead rat. She had her mouth around the fuzzy, faun colored body while the thin, scaly tail protruded stiffly from the corner of her mouth. "Great," I thought, "this is the last thing I want to extract from her jaws." Upon closer inspection, and to my great relief, I found that my Sahelien canine had some kind of strange fruit in her mouth. And so, I was introduced for the first time to baobab fruit.
Baobab trees are a common sight in the Niamey region and can be found throughout the African continent in hot, dry areas with low rainfall. They are classified, along with balsa, durian, and kapok trees, as a member of the Malvaceae family.
These tall trees with thick trunks and slender branches are highly regarded by people in Africa because they provide many resources in a harsh climate. Not only is every part of the tree edible from its seeds to its roots, the large trunk can be hollowed out for storage or shelter and the bark can be turned into fiber for baskets or cloth.
My first gastronomic encounter with the baobab took place just the other week when we were on Lamantin Island, home of the Park W Ecolodge (a very nice place to stay with a fantastic restaurant). This island, in the middle of the Niger River, is covered with baobab trees. We were encouraged by the proprietors to pick up a fruit that had fallen on the ground and try the pinkish, powdery flesh. It tasted like sour astronaut ice cream (like most people who grew up in Houston, I've had my fair share of freeze-dried Neapolitan ice cream). Although I could eat the raw fruit in a pinch, I think I prefer imbibing the wonderful juice, which Paulina showed me how to make upon my return from our safari adventure at Park W.
Paulina's Baobab Juice Recipe
350 grams baobab powder
3~4 liters tap or bottled water
handful of fresh mint
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cups sugar (or to taste)
- Combine baobab powder and 1 liter of water in a large bowl. Stir gently to dissolve the powder. It will look like a soupy cake batter.
- Strain the juice through a fine sieve into another large bowl. Set the pulpy contents of the sieve aside as it will be used again.
- Once you have strained all of the juice, put the pulp into a large bowl and mix with 1 liter of water. Stir until well combined.
- Strain the juice of this second batch into the first batch.
- Strain all of the juice one more time.
- In a small bowl, bruise the mint in 1/2 liter of water.
- Add the mint water to the baobab juice.
- Another 1/2 liter of water may be added if the juice is too thick.
- Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and sugar. Stir well to dissolve.
- Chill and serve.
Makes 3 liters of juice
For more information on the baobab tree: South African National Biodiversity Institute
An article on the EU approving the use baobab fruit in food products: BBC