Looking for another incredible superfood to add to your life? Look no further than baobab! Baobab, also known as “the tree of life,” has been as a food and a medicine (and more) for centuries. Every part of the tree can be used, and it’s an excellent source of key nutrients, including vitamin C, potassium and iron.
Baobab fruit and powder are believed to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Traditionally, baobab leaves, bark and seeds have been employed as a “panacea,” as in something to treat almost any disease. We’re talking about diseases ranging from serious concerns like malaria, tuberculosis and microbial infections to more common health problems like toothaches, diarrhea and fevers. (1)
With a tangy citrus-like flavor, you can add baobab powder to smoothies, homemade healthy desserts, salad dressings and more to reap the highly desirable baobab benefits. And not only is baobab an incredible health food, but baobab tree facts are quite astonishing from its ability to store large amounts of water in its trunk to its extremely long life of hundreds to even thousands of years!
What Is Baobab?
Wondering about baobab pronunciation: it’s pronounced Bey-Oh-Bab. Baobab is a genus (Adansonia) of nine species of deciduous trees that belong to the hibiscus or mallow family (Malvaceae). A baobab tree can be found growing in Africa, Australia or the Middle East.
What does a baobab tree look like? Baobab trees really stand out from other trees around them with their unique barrel-like trunks that are smooth and shiny. The trunks can be pinkish grey or copper colored and when there are no leaves on the tree, the branches look just like roots sticking up into the air.
Baobab trees also have flowers that open at night and fall off within 24 hours. What do they look like? The baobab flower on the African baobab tree (A. digitata) is large and white with a pendulous shape to it. These flowers are frequently pollinated by galagos (bush babies) and bats.
There’s also baobab tree fruit, which dries naturally on the branch after it bakes in the sun for about six months. It’s then harvested for various uses (more on that later).
Is baobab tree fruit edible? Yes, it definitely is. Once you crack open baobab fruits, which look similar to smooth coconuts, you find a dry, cream colored pulp surrounded by seeds. This pulp is already naturally dehydrated in the shell so no heat or pasteurization is required, and it simply can be ground into a baobab fruit pulp powder that can then be used as a healthy addition to your diet.
1. Immune System
Both the leaves and fruit pulp are used as an immune stimulant. This isn’t surprising considering the fact that baobab fruit pulp has an impressively high vitamin C content (280–300 mg/100 g), which is seven to 10 times more than oranges (51 mg/100 g)! (3)
The immune-boosting benefits of vitamin C have been shown time and again in research studies. For example, a review published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism demonstrates how getting enough vitamin C (as well as zinc) may help decrease symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections including the common cold.
In addition, the review points out how vitamin C and zinc can also help to reduce the incidence and improve the outcome of pneumonia and malaria infections, especially in children living in developing countries. (4)
2. Iron Absorption
Baobab fruit’s high vitamin C content helps your body to absorb its iron content. So if you’re struggling with iron deficiency anemia or just looking to up your iron intake, baobab can help. Vitamin C improves the absorption of nonheme iron, which is the form of iron present in plant-based foods like baobab. (5) As a food that contains both vitamin C and iron, baobab is a great way to boost your intake of both of these key nutrients.
3. Skin Health
Both baobab fruit and leaves have impressively high antioxidant contents. (6) We know that antioxidants not only help the body to fight disease, but they also really protect and boost the health of our skin. (7)
Being particularly high in a very well-known antioxidant, vitamin C, baobab used internally (the fruit and leaves) and externally (the seed oil) can help to fend off oxidative stress that promotes signs of aging while also boosting collagen production, which of course is very anti-aging. Vitamin C also helps with regeneration of vitamin E, which helps to protect and repair skin. (8)
4. Digestion and Blood Sugar
The researchers behind a 2013 laboratory study published in Nutrition Research hypothesized that baobab fruit extract would decrease starch digestion in vitro and show potential for reducing the glycemic response (GR) while also increasing satiety and diet-induced thermogenesis (a metabolic process during which your body burns calories to produce heat) in humans.
Baobab extract taken from six different African locations was baked into white bread at various doses to figure out the optimal dose for reducing starch breakdown and sugar release from white bread after an in vitro digestion process.
What did the researchers find? The polyphenol-rich baobab fruit (Adansonia digitata) extract reduced starch digestion and glycemic response at both low and high doses. However, no noteworthy effects on satiety or energy expenditure were observed. (9)
5. Weight Maintenance
A 2017 study published in Nutrition and Health looked at the effects of baobab fruit extract on satiety. Given the fact that baobab fruit is rich in health-boosting dietary fiber and polyphenols, they expected the results to be positive.
During this one-day single-blind crossover study, 20 healthy participants consumed a test smoothie containing 15 grams of baobab extract or a control smoothie with zero baobab. Then subjective ratings of satiety were taken. The researchers found that the consumers of the baobab smoothie did, in fact, report reduced measures of hunger.
The study concludes, “This research has positive implications for the use of baobab for reducing hunger, possibly having a positive effect on weight maintenance.” (10)
- 30 calories
- 0 grams protein
- 0 grams fat
- 6 grams carbohydrate
- 5 grams fiber
- 1 gram sugars
- 0 grams cholesterol
- 5 milligrams sodium
- 15 milligrams vitamin C (17 percent DV)
- 2.7 milligrams iron (15 percent DV)
- 250 international units vitamin A (5 percent DV)
- 200 milligrams potassium (4.3 percent DV)
- 16 milligrams magnesium (3.8 percent DV)
- 40 milligrams calcium (3.1 percent DV)
What are the uses of the baobab tree? The baobab tree is mainly used as a source of food. In the areas where it grows, baobab is a staple food. All parts of the tree can be consumed including the fruits, flowers, leaves, shoots, roots of seedlings and the roots. The leaves can be used fresh or as a cooked vegetable similar to spinach. When the leaves are dried, they become a great thickener for sauces, soups and stews.
What does the baobab fruit taste like? The fruits, also called “monkey bread,” contain a white, mealy, tart flesh can be consumed on its own, used to make drinks and other recipes, or turned into a powder.
Baobab seeds produce baobab oil. What is baobab oil used for? Baobab oil, which comes from the seeds, can be used topically and is very moisturizing and beneficial to the skin. The oil is also edible.
What animals eat the baobab tree? In the wild, baboons and warthogs are some of the animals known to eat the seed pods of baobab trees. Domesticated farm animals are also given the baobab fruit, young leaves, seeds and oil as part of their feed. Burning the fruit pulp is also known to produce a pungent smoke that helps to keep insects away from livestock. (13)
According to a scientific review of baobab, “Several plant parts have interesting antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and baobab has been used extensively since ancient times in traditional medicine.” (14)
As a traditional medicine, various parts of the baobab tree have been employed as a general panacea and the long list of health conditions it has been used to improve include malaria, tuberculosis, fever, microbial infections, diarrhea, anemia, toothache and dysentery. (1)
Since ancient times in India, practitioners of Ayurvedic Medicine have used baobab to treat diarrhea, dysentery, excessive thirst and skin inflammation.
Baobab vs. Camu Camu
How does baobab compare to another superfood, camu camu? Both are top sources of a vital nutrient: vitamin C. Camu camu is actually even richer in vitamin C than baobab and is considered the highest source of vitamin C on the planet. They also both contain significant levels of potassium, an electrolyte known for its positive effects on blood pressure.
In addition to vitamin C and potassium, baobab is also high in soluble fiber, antioxidants and other minerals like calcium. Meanwhile, camu camu is extremely high in manganese and a great source of beneficial antioxidants, including quercetin and anthocyanins. (16, 17)
Like baobab, camu camu is tart yet sweet, but baobab is less sour than camu camu. Both offer a citrus flavor to whatever they are added to. Camu camu is also typically ingested as a powder added to drinks or mixed with foods like oatmeal and yogurt. You can also find camu camu in pill or liquid form.
On their own, baobab and camu camu have similar yet slightly different nutritional profiles so you can choose one based on what nutrients you’re looking to increase in your diet or you can base your choice on taste preference. Overall, camu camu and baobab are both two great superfoods that can both be added to food and drink to boost their nutritional profiles.
Where to Find and Recipes
It’s difficult to find fresh baobab fruit outside the regions where it grows. In areas of the world where baobab fruit is not available, baobab is available in powder or capsule form at your local health store or online. You can purchase baobab fruit powder by itself or you can find it as an ingredient in plant-based nutritional powders. It’s also used in fruit chews and nutrition bars.
You can sprinkle baobab powder on yogurt or oatmeal. You can also add it to water or sparkling mineral water as a refreshing and much healthier alternative to soda. It also makes a tasty nutrient-rich smoothie addition. If you have a sauce that could use a citrusy kick, try adding a little baobab powder.
More ways to use baobab:
- Mixed into cold or hot water with lemon juice
- Mixed into coconut water
- In salad dressings, marinades and sauces
- Added to soups or stews
- Baked into homemade muffins and cookies
- Sprinkled on fresh fruit
Some nutritious and delicious baobab recipes to try:
- Baobab Water
- South African Salad Dressing
- Baobab Icecream (Vegan)
- Strawberry, Mango & Baobab Smoothie
History and Interesting Facts
There are many interesting baobab tree facts. For starters, about 75 percent of a baobab tree is water! Where does the baobab tree store water? Baobabs store water in various locations including their trunks and natural hollows found between their branches. In very dry areas where baobab grow, locals will often carve hollows into the trees to create storage wells to catch falling rainwater.
How old is the baobab tree? It’s a tree that has been around for thousands of years. The oldest baobab tree still in existence has been carbon dated as over 6,000 years old! It even gets more interesting — this incredibly old tree, located in South Africa, has a pub inside of its hollow trunk called “The Big Baobab Pub.” (18) Sadly, since 2005, nine of the 13 oldest African baobab specimens and five of the six largest trees have died or suffered the collapse and death of their largest or oldest stems.
Why is the baobab tree important? The trees are very culturally and religiously significant in many areas where they are found. As I mentioned earlier, it’s known as the “tree of life” and all of the baobab species continue to be used to this day extensively by locals as both a food and a medicine. (19)
Risks and Side Effects
In 2009, baobab fruit was certified as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There are currently no well-documented baobab powder side effects. (20) Of course, it’s always important to read product directions carefully and not to exceed recommended dosages.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, being treated for a medical condition or taking medication, check with your doctor before incorporating baobab powder into your diet.
- Baobab is a genus (Adansonia) of nine species of deciduous trees that belong to the hibiscus or mallow family (Malvaceae). The baobab tree is also warmly referred to as the “tree of life.”
- What is the fruit of the baobab? It’s a highly unique source of vitamin C, iron, potassium and a wealth of other nutrients.
- The fruit is turned into a powder that can be used in smoothies, salad dressings, soups and all kinds of recipes.
- Is baobab healthy? It sure is, which is why it’s has been used extensively since ancient times in traditional medicine for all kinds of health concerns including malaria, tuberculosis, fever, microbial infections, diarrhea, anemia, toothache and dysentery.
- Baobab benefits include:
- Improves immune system function and fights off diseases
- Boosts iron absorption booster
- Enhances skin health when used both internally and externally
- Better digestion and blood sugar control
- Possible weight maintenance helper