MARULA (Sclerocarya birrea)

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Mupfura (Sh), Umganu (N)

The Marula tree is indigenous to the Miombo woodlands of Southern Africa. Famous for its delicious fruits from which the Amarula liqueur is produced, and also enjoyed by elephants and other wild animals, which distracts them from going after farmers’ crops.
The fruit is very rich in vitamin C. The nut oil is similar in its properties to olive oil, highly nutritious and exceptionally stable, with the additional benefit of having powerful antioxidant properties. It is also highly valued as a skincare ingredient.

Where it can be found: Marula is widely distributed at low and medium altitudes in open woodlands across Zimbabwe. It is especially associated with hot, dryland areas and is an excellent source of supplementary nutrition and income for rural people living in areas of limited agricultural potential.

What is harvested – Harvesting time: The fruits are harvested between January and March.
After the fruits are eaten, the inner nuts are cleaned, dried and stored, waiting to be cracked. In the shell, Marula kernels store quite well since insects cannot get through the notoriously hard exterior—but this means that the nuts must be cracked carefully to avoid damaging the delicate, delicious kernels inside. The technique for cracking nuts has been perfected over generations, requiring just the right amount of force and a skilled hand. Nut cracking can be done throughout the year.

Average yield per collector: Fruit yields range from 270-570 kg of fruit/tree/year. Collecting the fruit is an ongoing activity. A skilled producer can manually extract 1.5 kg of nut kernels per day.

The fruits are rich in Vitamin C, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Fully ripe Marula fruits are tart, with a pleasant sweet-and-sour taste.

The kernels have higher protein and oil content than other popular nuts (including walnut, hazelnut, and almond) and are rich in magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.

The oil is highly nutritious and extraordinarily stable, containing a large proportion of unsaturated fats, vitamins C and E, and antioxidants. Marula oil has a similar fatty acid composition to olive oil but is much more resistant to oxidation and rancidity.

Marula fruit juice is extracted by soaking the fruit overnight and can be fermented to make beer that is used in traditional ceremonies. The fruit pulp can be made into all sorts of snacks such as fruit rolls, jams and jellies. The nuts can be eaten like any other nut or made into nut butter (substitute for peanut butter) to flavour relishes, greens and meat dishes. Marula oil is an excellent salad/cooking oil. It is sometimes used to coat and seal meat before it is dried to make biltong. It is also used in skin, eye and anti-aging face creams, baby and hair care.

Marula juice could be a raw material for the beverage and confectionary industry. Fermented marula fruit juice already serves as the essential ingredient for the Amarula liqueur. The fruit has high pectin content and is made into jams and jellies which are sometimes sold in supermarkets and specialty food shops.

There is growing demand for the oil. Inefficiencies in current processing technologies (nut cracking and kernel extraction) hinder commercial development; a variety of processing equipment is being looked at.

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