By Tracy Mapfumo
Mongongo is yet another wild tree nut found in Zimbabwe.
The tree (Schinziophyton rautanenii) has been used by natives of the Kalahari for centuries. The tree is widely distributed in Southern Africa. In its ‘core’ area (Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and western Zimbabwe), it can be found in large stands, across the well-drained Kalahari sands. Other belts are found in eastern Malawi, and in eastern Mozambique.
Fruit picking starts at the end of the rainy season but is often delayed due to the danger of confronting competing wild animals. A single tree yields as many as 900 fruits per year. The pulp is removed and the nuts are dried over several months. There are no insects known to attack the nut in storage and so it is easily conserved. Cracking the nuts is traditionally the domain of women, who use stones or small axes to break the hard outer casing.
Mongongo kernels are increasingly valued for their
outstanding nutritional content. They are rich in unsaturated fats. These fats have lower cholesterol levels and help reduce heart related diseases. The kernel is also a good source of protein, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc with very high levels of vitamin E. It has at least 30% oil and the oil is very useful oil for skin protection. It is effective not only for hydrating but also reduces inflammation and promotes cellular repair.
The fruits can be eaten fresh or dried, boiled to remove the tough outer skin and mashed into porridge, or fermented to give a refreshing potent beer. Mongongo fruits are also enjoyed by both cattle and game. The tasty kernels can be eaten raw or roasted, turned into a paste to use as a sauce thickener/flavouring, used in baking or oil can be extracted from them. The oil is edible and used for cooking.
Commercially, the oil is used in the cosmetics industry. The wood makes excellent fishing floats, canoes, toys and musical instruments.
The market for Mongongo kernels is growing. A good opportunity on the local market lies in the food industry. There is also growing demand for the oil locally from SMEs that formulate skin and hair-care products. The oil has good export potential.