India’s folklore holds several theories regarding baobab’s arrival to the country. One legend holds that Lord Krishna went to Africa and returned with the seeds, while other Hindu myths allege that the trees came into creation when the demons and gods churned the sea. This swelling and swirling created nine jewels, one of which was the baobab tree. Today, locals still refer to the majestic specimens as kalpvriksha, or, the wish-fulfilling tree.
Origin of Baobab
Baobabs are one of the most ancient trees on earth, existing even before the continents split. Today, 33 countries in Africa have some of the oldest strains of the tree, but no botanist can say for sure which country houses the original. Indeed, the subject of baobab’s origin is controversial, with botanists speculating and disputing the topic for centuries. Recent DNA dating technology has since given scientists some insight on the issue: A 2009 study published in “Molecular Ecology” reveals that the most likely origin is somewhere in West Africa.
Baobab trees possess incredible features due to its evolutionary history—their roots, for instance, have undergone centuries of refinement to possess the ability to store water. Today, they can thrive in the harshest desert conditions. Baobab’s water storing capabilities have been exploited by some of the earliest civilizations. During droughts, the hunter-gatherer San nomads often relied on baobab trees as a precious water source: a single tree can hold a whopping 1,189 gallons.
Today, baobabs grow mostly throughout tropical Africa, small parts of southern Arabia, Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Barbados and Hawaii.
|Baobab seller in Mandu|
Availability of Baobab in India
Baobabs are a rare sight in India. Savanur, a small town located in the Haveri District of Karnataka, boasts of its three majestic baobab trees reputed to be the oldest in the country. Each of them is allegedly over 5,000 years old (without tree rings, none can say for sure), and the girth of one tree measures an impressive 18 meters.
Along with these landmarks, a few baobabs grow in Madhya Pradesh’s ruined city, Mandavgad. Outside the Vasai fort in Maharashtra, one can behold an ancient tree growing amidst the fort’s stoic, 15th century facades. One or two baobabs grow in Gujarat’s cities of Kutch, Bhanagar, and Baroda. In Chennai, a single baobab tree grows in the Theosophist Society Gardens, a site dedicated to biological preservation.
Indeed, the country’s baobab sightings are limited and anecdotal, with most pointing to trees growing along the Maharashtra coastline. Farmers do not grow baobab commercially, though a vendor in Mandavgad may try to sell a few pods to the tourists exploring the ruins.
Despite the baobab’s usefulness, the tree faces extinction in India and other parts of the world. Bihar’s Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park maintains one tree as part of its conservation efforts to preserve the baobab. The Surat Municipal Corporation in Mumbai also declared two as heritage trees, thus providing them immunity from removal.
Here's a supplier of baobab seeds:
Where to find Baobab in India
Only small, rural vendors sell baobab pods during their short season. Few, if any, Indian dishes feature baobab. Aside from visiting the sites outlines above, ordering baobab’s expensive imported powder online is the best bet of sampling the fruit. These supplements, however, have yet to arrive on India’s grocery shelves.
Checking for Ripeness in Baobab
When shook, ripe pods in the fruit rattle against the thin, brown shell. This indicates that the contents are dry and thus, ready for consumption. Baobab’s ripe exterior is unremarkable, with locals likening the fuzzy brown fruit to bats hanging on a tree.
Taste of Baobab
Do not expect baobab to be pulpy and sweet like other fruits—its edible portion has a dry, chalky and powdery texture. Baobabs taste insipid with a mildly sour, citrusy flavor; some find hints of tangy watermelon and strawberry while sucking on the fruit. Its tangy, citrusy flavor earns it the nickname of “lemonade tree” in some African countries.
Nutritional Value of Baobab
Baobab’s well-rounded nutritional profile makes the fruit an essential source of foodstuff for desert dwellers and nomads living in harsh, calorie-restricted regions. According to a nutrition label posted on Ojio raw organic baobab powder, 100g of powder* contains the following:
2,031mg Potassium (57% RDI)
73g Carbohydrate (25% RDI)
53g Fiber (213% RDI)
Vitamin C (120% RDI)
Calcium (30% RDI)
Iron (45% RDI)
Magnesium (30% RDI)
Phosphorous (6% RDI)
Thiamin (6% RDI)
*Note: The recommended serving size of baobab powder is 2 tablespoons, or, 30g.
Health Benefits of Baobab
Baobab is exceptionally high in calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin C and fiber. As explained in a 2011 Reuters article, the fruit contains an abundance of antioxidants and outshines several other superfoods on the ORAC scale. To capitalize on baobab’s newfound popularity, many cottage industries have sprouted up to sell baobab powder as a nutritional super food from Africa.
According to the book, “Indian Medicinal Plants: An Illustrated Dictionary,” baobab acts as a coolant, refrigerant, anti-dysenteric, antihistaminic, and antiseptic. Locals use the leaves as a prophylactic against fevers, and an infusion with flowers treat respiratory disorders. Several civilizations also utilize the dried and powdered fruit pulp to treat bronchial asthma and allergic dermatitis.
Scientific studies reveal additional health benefits:
--A 1994 study published in Fitoterapia found that baobab fruit extracts exhibited anti-inlammatory and analgesic qualities.
--According to a 2003 study published in the Journal of Herbs, Spices and Medicinal Plants, baobab pulp’s aqueous extracts showed significant hepatoprotective effects.
--A 2000 study published in Pharmaceutical Biology found that baobab’s methanol extracts displayed potent antiviral activities against herpes simplex, sindbis and the poliovirus. In fact, baobab extracts were the most potent out of 18 other medicinal plants of Togo.
How to Open/Cut:
Crack baobabs open with a hammer, but always lay a piece of newspaper or rimmed tray underneath the fruit. Otherwise, expect to be greeted with a powdery mess. The edible portion of the fruit is the obvious powdered white pods encasing the seeds.
To consume, suck the chalky powder surrounding each pod. Once finished, spit out the small dark seed.
To extract the powder, gently crush the fruit in a sieve and collect the dry residue. Discard or set the seed aside for use in other recipes.
Extracted baobab powder stays fresh for three years. Store in an airtight container and place outside of direct sunlight, ideally in dry conditions. If the environment is humid, put the container in the refrigerator.
Baobab Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--One of the most common baobab concoctions is a juice known in Africa as bouye. Simply add water to the fruit powder and let it soak for two hours. Once the powder has dissolved, stir the liquid and strain with cheesecloth: this will produce a chalky, sweet, milky liquid. Flavor with sugar as desired.
--Make baobab tea by boiling the fruit, and then straining the liquid through cheesecloth. Sufferers of respiratory ailments report tremendous relief after drinking a cup or two of the tea.
--Use the juice of the baobab to make ice cream. Replace some of recipe’s milk or cream with baobab juice to impart its mellow tart flavor into the dessert.
--Roast, grind, and brew the seeds to make a coffee-like beverage.
--Add baobab powder to smoothies. Baobabs pairs well with tropical fruits including mango, banana, pineapple and citrus.
--Sprinkle baobab powder on tropical fruit salads made from sliced pineapple, kiwi, mango, and banana.
--Baobab powder works well in savory dishes: add to soup broth, or use the powder to thicken sauces and marinades needing a tangy boost.
--Add the powder to granolas and muesli bars.
Fruits: Mango, cacao, pineapple, banana, coconut, tamarind, kokum, jackfruit, kiwi, apricot, date, apple, strawberry
Herbs, spices, and oil: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, lemon juice, orange juice, mint, almond, cashew, soymilk, almond milk, honey, brown sugar, coffee, nut butter, chocolate, cocoa, raisin, vanilla, salt, coconut oil
Arabic folklore has a different baobab legend—it purports that the devil himself flung the tree in the air, and the branches went into the earth while the roots went up into the sky. This legend is perhaps the source of the baobab’s other name: the upside down tree. Africans hold a similar myth, although they believe a hyena—not the devil—threw the tree upside down.
The mosquito population’s growing resistance to chemical repellants has caused India’s government to explore natural remedies. Studies conducted in New Delhi’s Department of Virology indicate that baobab plant extracts have larvicidal and repellant activities against the mosquitos.
Baobab houses the only bar inside of a tree: South Africa’s bar, “The Big Baobab,” has enough room for 50 patrons, and the tree’s cool interior keeps the beer cold naturally.
Aane hunase (Kannada)
Aanipuliya maram (Tamil)
Brahma malika (Telegu)
The tree of life