The Next SuperFood? FDA Approves Baobab Fruit

The FDA has approved the use of baobab fruit in foods and drinks, a year after a similar approval was granted in the European Union. The fruit, pictured above, is jockeying to become 2010′s superfood.

Will it reach the rockstar status of the acai berry?

What you need to know:

The baobab tree species is found in Africa, the island of Madagascar, and Western Australia. Its fruit has provided sustenance to native people for ages. The baobab fruit, known also as monkey bread or sour gourd, can be the size of a skinny watermelon, and has a distinctive tart flavor.

Although it can be consumed raw, the goal is to process baobab into a fine powder and import it to the US for use in shakes, energy bars, and other processed food products. The FDA GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status has actually been granted to the powder, not the whole fruit. It is called baobab dried fruit pulp.

The raw fruit is a nutrient powerhouse, setting the US consumer for a marketing campaign not seen since we first heard of acai berries a few years ago. It is rich in vitamin C and in calcium, iron, and magnesium, as well as many antioxidants.

What to do at the supermarket:

It will be a while before the first products hit the shelves, but keep in mind that sprinkling a bit of baobab powder into a candy bar will not magically change its properties. It’s still going to be a candy bar.

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  • Jessica Roberts

    I have a tiny little comment to make. I am of no professional importance in the science of nutrition, (although I am studying to be a dietitian at KSU) but sometimes I feel like these “superfoods” should stay where they originated. They make have sustained the native folks for thousands of years…maybe it should stay that way. God put certain foods in our environment to provide for the people that inhabited that environment. A superfood shouldn’t be necessary if one is getting a proper diet in the first place. It’s called balance and variety. I just see this as another marketing ploy that people will waste their money on, complaining that they don’t see results because they are drinking the baobab while washing down bacon and eggs and a pop-tart for breakfast. Ugghh….

  • staff

    Jessica thanks for the thoughtful comment, and good luck with your studies. There is some concern in Africa as to how boabab exports will affect local usage and sustainability. After export, will there be enough baobab left for local usage? or wil people have to eat hamburgers instead?
    Also, a baobab tree takes decades and centuries to grow, so the fruit is not a typical farm crop. Will people start chopping down baobab forests to get to the 10% additional fruit on the tree tops that previously they had let be?
    Lastly, most of the profit, as usual, will not stay in Africa, because the raw material is very cheap. It’s the processing plants in the US and Europe, as well as the distributors that gain the most.

  • Jessica Roberts

    Thank you! Your questions regarding baobab sustainability and economic concern express my sentiment exactly. Have any ideas on how to help?

  • Carol

    So true, Jessica.

    The media are too quick to parrot manufacturers’ claims about “super” foods and other foods in general without researching and showing meaningful numbers. As with other “super fruits,” it is almost impossible to find good nutrition data on this food in a form that can be compared to data from fruits with which it is compared. Since it is dried, it can’t be compared to fresh fruit, which is full of water (although that’s often done). Some sites touting it don’t even say how the nutrients were measured; i.e., from fresh baobab, or the processed version, which is what will be used in food products. If measured before being dried, processed and stored, it will not have the same antioxidant (e.g., vitamin C) activity after drying, etc. (same as with any fruit). But 100 grams of any dehydrated fruit will be packed with a lot more nutrients by weight than fresh, since there is little water taking up space.

    Also, 100 grams of powder (typical sample size used in laboratory analysis) is much more than you’ll find in any energy bar or smoothie that might use this ingredient. Most bars only weigh about 100 grams total, so the baobab powder will probably only be about 5-10% of that amount, otherwise it would make everything too tart. It’s easy to make nutrition look good when the math is not on the table and you aren’t comparing dried apples to dried apples.

    That said, it does appear that this fruit is unusually high in calcium (for a fruit), but 10 grams of the powder will still only have 3% of your DV – why not add domestic, dried dairy or other cheaper sources of calcium? The claims about beneficial fatty acids are absurd, because the pulp has very little fat… the data used are from analysis of the SEEDS, not the pulp (the part that got the GRAS for use in food products). Then there’s the amino acid data on one site, with small print saying “expressed in 100g of protein,” when 100 g of POWDER only has only about 3 g protein (i.e., who cares what the amino acid content is at that tiny level?), and mention of baobab “containing” iron, when their own cited studies say it isn’t a good source of iron. Every fruit “contains” some iron. All this misinformation is so common, unfortunately…

  • staff

    Carol – thanks for the detailed nutritional analysis.
    Jessica – I would try to contact fair trade organizations.

  • Pascal

    Carol – Many thank for your analysis. As direct producers of Baobab Fruit Pulp since 10 years, we always try to give the right informations to our customers. I’ll try to add to our website a better comparative nutritional table, and we will try also to push claim on the Total Amounts of Micro nutrients, perfectly balanced, rather than SINGLE amounts of Calcium, for examples.

    We are selling Baobab Dried Fruit Pulp in Europe since many years. We have now around 25,000 Users, and results on certain kind of illness are incredible. On Diabetic, Coeliacs, Chron Disease, Intestinal Disease, Patients affected by AIDS or under Chemiotherapy have great benefits from this great amount of nutrients and Fibers.

    We Love Baobab, and we are sure his harvesting will bring added value to a fruit that, until this years, is 75% thrown away (from the last report of Senegal Gov).

    No Chopping Down of Baobab trees until now ! ;-)

  • http://n/a Phillipa Mkanjala

    I am glad that you are making this product available to many people outside Africa. I come from Taita, in the centre of the Tsavo National Park in Kenya and I can assure the people that are afraid of you finishing the baobabs that this will never happen. Indeed as you say about the case in Senegal, many more people in Africa will be planting these trees on their own plots, now that they are beginning to see the potential. As an educated African living in N.America-Canada-I get surprised at the limited types of food eaten here, and why White people grow older so fast. I also see so many sickly people around…..shuffling and dependent on perpetual medicines. In Africa we get our medicines from our food-fruits and vegetables or boil the leaves and roots of plants. I am 50 yet I am mistaken for being in my thirties. It is the diet. It is the many additives in cereals, food, soups, indeed everything. And of course the growth hormones. So many of the diseases in developed countries are quite rare in Africa as they are attacked by the right foods before they commence.
    I hope more people will get their hands on Baobab products before big pharma add their additives which I believe leads to diseases. I am planning to commence trade in baobab pulp too, and also plant millions of baobab plants with my community. That way, many will survive being eaten by elephants and produce future fruits. There are many other fruits out there but the baobab is the Queen/King of all.
    I am glad that baobab is helping more people live their lives to the full and it is cheap compared to drugs and has no harmful side effects…….only good ones.

  • http://n/a Phillipa Mkanjala

    By the way, it is culturally unthinkable to cut down a Baobab tree in Africa. It is forbidden……that is why many of the trees are hundreds and hundreds years old. It would take many people to cut through its 20 m diametre. It is time for Americans in Florida, Arizona, Carlifornia and New Mexico to begin growing their own baobab trees as the climate is now suitable for them.

    The only part that is harvested are the leaves, fruits and bark…….all these grow back by the next rain season. The only good thing about environmental awareness in many countries is the realization that we can plant trees wherever we want without waiting for nature to take its own course. I also believe that there are carbon credits for growing more trees, Baobab trees included.

    Americans are rich but need to spend more on quality products and less on medicines. Synthetic products in medicines do not interact safely with other products in the body, hence the high cost of health care in America.

  • Kadji

    Pascal & Phillipa, thanks for teaching more people about the baobab tree. I am fromm Senegal, live in the US. I always crave for the baobab fruit. Fortunately, i can find it in the ethnic store not far from me. Did you also know that in Senegal, we powderise the leaves and mix it with millet couscous…very nutritious.
    So true about the fact that in Africa, one would never dream of cutting down a baobab tree. Call it superstition, but in Senegal, it would be “sacrilege”
    I know for a fact that the fruit would “INSTANTLY” stop diarrhea.
    the bark is used in Senegal to starch the laundry.