Baobab: A Superfruit Rediscovered

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It looks and sounds like something out a Dr. Seuss book, but the baobab is as serious as it gets when it comes to health benefits and nutritional bang. Native to the African savannah, the baobab tree is often called “the tree of life” because for centuries locals utilized all of its parts to create food, beverages, medicines, and fibers to weave ropes and mats. But the baobab had become undervalued by Africans who saw it as a famine food, and the fruit was virtually unknown to the rest of the world.

“It’s considered a ‘lost crop’ because its value had been lost, but now Africans and Westerners are both rediscovering and re-appreciating the baobab’s health benefits,” explains Luc Maes, a naturopathic doctor and founder of Kaibae, maker of baobab superfoods and beauty products.

There is no “fresh” baobab fruit. The football-sized, hard-shelled pods are ripe when they turn brown. Crack them open and the meringue-like fruit powder inside is already dried from the heat of the sun. The powder has a slightly sweet, tangy taste, and Africans use it as an alternative to sugar.

And now, the baobab is gaining a cultlike following here for its amazing nutrient profile. The fruit has six times as much vitamin C as an orange, twice as much calcium as a glass of milk, four times more potassium than a banana, six times the antioxidants of berries and 12 times the dietary fiber of an apple. “And the prebiotic benefits are what drew me to it,” says Maes. “The baobab is 48 percent prebiotic fiber, and when you ingest it, it promotes the growth of helpful, probiotic bacteria in your gut.”

Looking to harness the nutritional power of the baobab? Companies such as Kaibae, Organic Burst, and Baobest sell ready-to-eat baobab powder that can be sprinkled onto and into a wide variety of foods. Mix it with water for an all-natural energy drink, blend it into smoothies, yogurt or cereal, sprinkle it onto popcorn or blend it into the batter for pancakes, cookies or other baked goods. It won’t significantly alter the taste of anything you add it to, but it will definitely give a healthy boost to everything.

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.