Mungongoma (Sh), Umgoma or Umganuompobola (N)
Mongongo trees have been used by Kalahari peoples for centuries. The wood makes excellent fishing floats, canoes, toys and musical instruments. The fruits are consumed especially during times of drought. The nutritious nut is pounded; the oil is extracted and used in cooking. The oil is also used as a body rub that protects the skin and hair from the harsh desert environment.
Mongongo kernels are increasingly valued more widely for their outstanding nutritional content; the oil is known to be stable and it is a prized cosmetic ingredient.
Where it can be found:
The tree is widely distributed in Southern Africa. It prefers hot temperatures and little rain. In its ‘core’ area (northern Namibia, northern Botswana, south western Zambia and western Zimbabwe), it can be found in large stands, several hundred meters wide and stretching for several kilometres, across the well-drained Kalahari sands. Other belts are found in eastern Malawi and in northern Mozambique.
What is harvested – Harvesting time:
Fruit picking starts at the end of the rainy season (April-May) but is often delayed until the tall grasses have started to die back (June), to avoid coming face to face with the elephants and other wild animals that eat them. A single tree can yield as many as 1,000 fruits per year and some years the fruits are so abundant that they pile knee deep on the ground. The pulp is removed and the nuts dried for a few months. There are no insects known to attack the nut in storage and so it is easily conserved, either in the bush or at the home compound.
Average yield per collector:
Cracking mongongo nuts is a tricky business, left for the most part to women who first scorch them in a fire and then use stones or small axes to break the outer shell. Cracking can be done throughout the year, which makes mongongo an important source of income in between agricultural seasons.
The nutritional content of mongongo kernels is outstanding. They are rich in beneficial fatty acids. These fats have lower cholesterol levels and help reduce heart related diseases. The kernel has 26g of protein per 100g, an amount similar to peanuts and other protein-rich legumes. The kernel is also a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc with very high levels of vitamin E.
The seeds are at least 30% oil and the oil has a unique composition. The high levels of vitamin E (tocopherol) and linoleic and eleostearic acids make it a stable and very useful oil for skin protection. It is effective not only for hydrating the (normal to dry) skin, but also reduces inflammation and redness and promotes cellular repair.
Fruit can be eaten fresh or dried. The fruits are first softened with steam to remove the skins, then cooked to separate the pulp from the nuts. The pulp is often mixed into porridge, or fermented to give a refreshing potent beer. In the absence of moisture, fruits can remain edible for up to 8 months left on the ground where they fall. Fruits are also enjoyed by both cattle and game.
The tasty kernels can be eaten raw or roasted, turned into a paste to use as a sauce thickener/flavouring, or oil can be extracted from them. The oil is edible and used for cooking.
Commercially, the oil is used for making soaps, cosmetics, varnishes, and by the linoleum and oil cloth industry.
The market for mongongo kernels is growing. A good opportunity on the local market lies in the hospitality/tourism industry. There is also growing demand for the oil locally from SMEs that formulate skin and hair-care products. The oil has good export potential.
- RECIPES USING LOCAL NUTS