Abandon your quinoa, discard your spirulina, throw away your goji berries. There's a new superfood in town for 2015, and it's the baobab fruit. It's being promoted here, there and everywhere for its health-giving properties. 

The baobab fruit is a strange beast, encased in large furry pods that hang from the similarly named huge trees' sparse branches. Crack open a pod and the white powdery fruit tastes like strawberry sherbet. The only fruit that naturally dries before it falls from the tree, baobab also provides a lifeline for rural families in the African drylands.

Nutrition

The fruit of a baobab pod

The fruit of a baobab pod.

Used fresh to make juice and jam, dried and sprinkled into sauces and stews, the fruit contains potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, calcium and iron in high doses. For the families TREE AID works with, food is scarce from March to September. The baobab fruit can be harvested from May onwards, providing vital nutrients when there is not much else is available in the landscape.

But it is not only the fruit that helps guard against malnutrition for families. The leaves are also highly nutritious and extremely versatile. With high levels of vitamin C, potassium and calcium, leaves can be picked from young trees that are just a year old. A carefully managed baobab nursery can provide a village with essential nutrients all year round. As the trees mature they produce more leaves, and then go on to produce the fruit, adding to nature's nutritional larder.

Leaves are eaten fresh like spinach, dried in sauces or pounded to make a flour. The flour can be sprinkled like a condiment onto any meal to add nutrients. This is particularly useful for feeding infants and young children, helping to nourish those most at risk of severe malnutrition in some of the poorest countries in the world.

Trade

Woman leave a baobab tree after harvesting its pods

Woman leave a baobab tree after harvesting its pods.

Baobab fruits and leaves are ideal products for villagers to sell in the market. Extremely light to transport and easily dried, they can be made available year round. TREE AID trains women to set up small businesses based on selling baobab. While baobab trees are plentiful throughout the drylands (and becoming more so thanks to TREE AID's work supporting village tree nurseries to grow them) there is high demand for baobab products in towns and cities.

For rural women, selling baobab makes a huge difference to daily life. The cash earned means mothers can buy stocks of staple foods like rice and millet to feed their families all year round. TREE AID has helped families in Burkina Faso to increase their household income by 37 percent – a massive windfall for families who do not have enough to eat for up to six months of every year. 

Environment

Living for hundreds of years, the baobab is similar to our English aak. As baobab trees age, their trunks become hollow, providing shelter for wildlife. The baobab's huge trunk can hold gallons of water, helping it to survive through the months of scorching temperatures and lack of rain that characterise the drylands climate.

So sip your baobab smoothie, sprinkle the powder on your porridge and join generations of African families in enjoying this truly super food.

TREE AID International is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting villagers in the drylands of Africa, where people go hungry for four months a year — every year. We have helped more than a half-million people across Africa grow more than 10 million trees for food and to protect their fragile environment. We work with partners at all levels from village to government to make sure the voice of the poorest is at the centre of forestry policy. The author of the story, Sarah Moore, is fundraising manager for TREE AID, which you can follow twitter @TREEAID.

Related on MNN:

Baobab: The 'superfood' that saves lives
There's a new superfood in town for 2015, and it's the baobab fruit.