MOBOLA PLUM (Parinari curatellifolia)

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Muchakata, Muhacha (Sh), Umnkuna (N)

The mobola plum is also called hissing tree for the sound the bark makes when cut. As its fruits are sweet and very tasty and much sought after -rated the best African wild fruit!- the trees are normally left standing though when areas of woodland are cleared for cultivation. The fruit is especially important during periods of food shortages. The nut kernels are a good source of energy, protein, nutritionally valuable minerals and contain good quality oil useful for cosmetic purposes. In many communities, it is forbidden to cut down mobola plum trees because of their importance in rain-making and other cultural ceremonies. Some churches consider the tree to be sacred and use the leaves to cleanse people of illnesses and evil spirits. The bark produces a pink-brown dye which is used in basket-making. These many uses help protect the tree.


Where it can be found:
Mobola plum is widespread in tropical Africa from Senegal to Kenya and southwards to northern South Africa, with the highest concentration in deciduous Miombo woodland in Zimbabwe and the lowveld region in South Africa.

Mobola plum mostly grows in open woodland, wooded grassland, savannah and often on rocky sites. It is particularly common near rivers (Lowveld) and in areas of poor drainage (Middle- and Highveld). It is often considered an indicator of a high water table. It is gregarious and locally abundant.

What is harvested – Harvesting time:
Fruits can be harvested from Oct to Jan. They can be harvested when they turn orange. The fruits often fall to the ground before they are fully mature and then continue to ripen on the ground. The tree fruits profusely, but may not bear fruit every year. When the trees produce particularly large numbers of fruit, it is said that drought is coming.

For extraction of large quantities of seeds, the fruits are soaked in water for 24 hours, and then pounded with some coarse sand. After mixing well with large quantities of water, the fruit skin and pulp are discarded, leaving the cleaned seeds behind. Seeds should be sun dried for at least 2 days before the kernels are extracted, and can be kept for a few months.

The fruit has a flavour and texture a bit like sweet potatoes, is a good source of vitamin C, and has significant amounts of magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron.

The kernel has 33g of protein per 100g, an amount similar to peanuts and other protein-rich legumes. It is also a good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and phosphorus with high levels of vitamin E.

The kernels have a high oil content. The fatty acids in the oil are mainly (poly)unsaturated. These fats have lower cholesterol levels and help reduce heart related diseases.

The oil absorbs well into the skin. It offers excellent moisturisation without clogging of pores. Due to the high level of eleostearic acid, the oil provides some level of UV ray protection.

Mobola plum is a neat, compact, shade tree and a good tree to grow in orchards or home gardens. Bees love the flowers for their abundant nectar, making mobola plum trees a favourite of beekeepers.

The pulp of the fruit is pleasantly sweet, particularly if the fruits are picked and stored until they are thoroughly ripe. The fruits are eaten fresh but are sweeter when sun-dried for 3-4 days. The pulp is often pounded and used as a flavouring for porridge. The juice is used to make preserves as well as both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. In some communities, the fruit is cooked down to make syrup which is then mixed with cooked millet and rolled into a ball to form a traditional cake called zvambwa. The fruit can be dried and used as a reserve food.

The kernels are eaten raw or roasted, or crushed and cooked with green vegetables. They make an excellent substitute for almonds or pine nuts.

The kernel oil can also be employed in the cosmetics industries for soaps, in products for body care, emollient creams for dry, damaged, tired or aged skin and hair. It is used in nourishing lip balms and hair care products such as dry hair shampoos, capillary masks and hair conditioning oil. In addition, the oil is an ingredient in the manufacturing of paints, varnishes, and printing and engraving inks.

The high content of cellulose limits the use of the oil cake, but it can be used as manure.

Mobola plum fruit and kernels are popular locally but not much traded. However, they lend themselves well to several potential food and drinks products.

There is some demand for the oil locally from SMEs that formulate skin and hair-care products. The oil has good export potential as a cosmetic ingredient.

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