The Use of Baobab Leaves (Adansonia digitata L.) for Food in Africa: A Review

Abstract

The Use of Baobab Leaves (Adansonia digitata) for Food in Africa: A Review. The massive long-lived African baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) is a celebrated member of a small pantropical group of trees in the Malvaceae family. Its much-loved fruit is generally considered the tree’s most important food offering, and the baobab is more widely known as a fruit and fiber tree than a vegetable tree. Recent studies indicate that baobab leaves are eaten throughout its range, most notably in West Africa, and there is now ample documentation of the tree being valued in some places chiefly for its edible leaves. This paper presents a review of the use of baobab leaves for food in Africa. It identifies the species as one of Africa’s important leafy vegetables and highlights issues related to baobab management strategies for leaf production, the distinguishing characteristics of palatable leaves, and the seasonal dimension of leaf consumption. The culinary uses of baobab leaves and their nutritiousness are discussed, as well as current efforts to cultivate young baobabs for their leaves. The use of baobab leaves for food outside of Africa is also noted, and several suggestions are offered for future studies of baobab leaf consumption in Africa.

L’utilisation des feuilles de baobab en tant que nourriture en Afrique: Un compte- rendu. Le Baobab africain énorme et d’une grande longévité (Adansonia digitata L.) est un membre glorieux d’un petit groupe d’arbres tropicaux des deux émisphères dans la famille des Malvaceae. Son fruit bien aimé est considéré comme étant l’offrande la plus importante et le baobab est plus connu comme un arbre à fruit et à fibres qu’un arbre potager. Des études récentes indiquent que les feuilles du baobab sont mangées d’un bout à l’autre de son étendue, plus particulièrement en Afrique de l’Ouest, et l’on trouve maintenant une multitude de documents sur cet arbre étant estimé dans certains endroits principalement pour ses feuilles comestibles. Cet article présente un compte-rendu de l’utilisation des feuilles de baobab comme nourriture en Afrique. Il identifie les espèces comme un des légumes à feuilles importants en Afrique et souligne les problèmes liés aux stratégies de gestion du baobab, les caractéristiques des feuilles savoureuses et l’étendue saisonnière de la consommation de feuilles. Les utilisations culinaires des feuilles de baobab et leur valeur nutritionnelle sont étudiées ainsi que les efforts en cours de cultiver de jeunes baobab pour leurs feuilles. L’utilisation des feuilles de baobab en tant que nourriture en dehors de l’Afrique est également mentionnée et plusieurs suggestions sont proposées quant à des études futures sur la consommation de la feuille de baobab en Afrique.

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Acknowledgments

I thank the anonymous reviewers of this article for their helpful comments, and special thanks go to Brandon Lewter of the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library for his assistance in locating the sources.

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Correspondence to John Rashford.

Appendix. Composition of baobab leaves

Appendix. Composition of baobab leaves

  Average Min Max References
Macronutrients
 Water (%) 7.3 6.4 8.2 (Lockett and Grivetti 2000; Nordeide et al. 1996)
 Energy (kJ/100 g dw) 1380 1180 1581 (Becker 1983; Nordeide et al. 1996)
 Carbohydrates (g/100 g dw) 56.4 40.2 69.0 (Becker 1983; Lockett and Grivetti 2000; Nordeide et al. 1996)
 Crude protein (g/100 g dw) 12.8 10.1 15.0 (Becker 1983; Lockett and Grivetti 2000; Nordeide et al. 1996)
 Crude lipids (g/100 g dw) 4.9 4.0 6.3 (Becker 1983; Lockett and Grivetti 2000; Nordeide et al. 1996)
 Fiber (g/100 g dw) 19.2 11.0 27.5 (Becker 1983; Lockett and Grivetti 2000)
 Ash (g/100 g dw) 13.7 11.5 15.9 (Lockett and Grivetti 2000; Nordeide et al. 1996)
Minerals (mg/100 g dw)
 Ca 1582 307 2640 (Barminas et al. 1998; Boukari et al. 2001; Glew et al. 1997; Lockett and Grivetti 2000; Nordeide et al. 1996; Oomen and Grubben 1978; Prentice et al. 1993; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Cu 0.8 0.3 1.6 (Barminas et al. 1998; Glew et al. 1997; Lockett and Grivetti 2000; Smith et al. 1996)
 Fe 65.3 1.2 254 (Barminas et al. 1998; Glew et al. 1997; Lockett and Grivetti 2000; Nordeide et al. 1996; Sena et al. 1998; Smith et al. 1996; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 K 531 140 1080 (Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Mg 339 93.6 549 (Barminas et al. 1998; Glew et al. 1997; Lockett and Grivetti 2000; Sena et al. 1998; Smith et al. 1996; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Mn 6.0 1.9 9.8 (Glew et al. 1997; Lockett and Grivetti 2000; Sena et al. 1998; Smith et al. 1996; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Na 83.4 3.8 163 (Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998)
 P 274 115 875 (Barminas et al. 1998; Glew et al. 1997; Lockett and Grivetti 2000; Prentice et al. 1993; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Zn 4.1 0.7 22.4 (Barminas et al. 1998; Glew et al. 1997; Lockett and Grivetti 2000; Nordeide et al. 1996; Sena et al. 1998; Smith et al. 1996; Yazzie et al. 1994)
Amino acids (g/100 g proteins)
 Alanine 6.4 5.8 7.5 (Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Arginine 7.7 6.4 11.1 (Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Aspartic acid 10.6 8.1 12.5 (Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Cysteic acid 2.3 1.5 3.9 (Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Glutamic acid 10.5 7.4 12.9 (Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Glycine 5.5 4.8 6.7 (Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Histidine 2.1 1.7 2.6 (Glew et al. 1997; Nordeide et al. 1996; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Isoleucine 5.7 4.7 7.5 (Yazzie et al. 1994; Nordeide et al. 1996; Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998)
 Leucine 8.3 7.2 9.7 (Glew et al. 1997; Nordeide et al. 1996; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Lysine 5.6 4.7 6.7 (Yazzie et al. 1994; Nordeide et al. 1996; Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998)
 Methionine 1.7 0.9 2.6 (Yazzie et al. 1994; Nordeide et al. 1996; Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998)
 Phenylalanine 5.5 4.8 6.5 (Glew et al. 1997; Nordeide et al. 1996; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Proline 5.6 4.9 6.6 (Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Serine 4.3 3.6 5.6 (Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Threonine 3.9 3.4 4.8 (Glew et al. 1997; Nordeide et al. 1996; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Tryptophan 1.9 1.0 3.0 (Glew et al. 1997; Nordeide et al. 1996; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Tyrosine 4.0 3.4 5.1 (Glew et al. 1997; Nordeide et al. 1996; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
 Valine 6.0 5.2 7.0 (Glew et al. 1997; Nordeide et al. 1996; Sena et al. 1998; Yazzie et al. 1994)
Fatty acids (mg/g dw)
 C:8 (caprylic) 0.01 0.01 0.01 (Sena et al. 1998)
 C:12 (lauric) 0.09 0.09 0.09 (Sena et al. 1998)
 C14:0 (myristic) 0.37 0.37 0.37 (Sena et al. 1998)
 C16:0 (palmitic) 1.72 0.24 3.2 (Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998)
 C16:1 (palmitoleic) 0.11 0.01 0.21 (Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998)
 C18:1 (oleic) 0.22 0.06 0.39 (Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998)
 C18:2 (linoleic) 0.55 0.1 1 (Glew et al. 1997; Sena et al. 1998)
 C20:0 (arachidic) 0.15 0.15 0.15 (Sena et al. 1998)
 C20:1 (gadoleic)  
  1. Adapted with permission from a table by Chadare (2010, pp. 27–32) in which comparable data is also presented for the fruit pulp, whole seeds, and kernels

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Rashford, J. The Use of Baobab Leaves (Adansonia digitata L.) for Food in Africa: A Review. Econ Bot 72, 478–495 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12231-018-9438-y

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Key Words

  • Baobab uses
  • food
  • morphotypes
  • subspecific variation
  • ethnobotany
  • pollarded baobabs