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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume II: Vegetables
Throughout a vast swath of western tropical Africa, from Senegal to Angola, dika is a part of the diet. In the southwestern corner of its range, from Nigeria to Angola, the fruits are eaten. However, in the main area of occurrence, from Senegal to Uganda, the major food by far is the seed. Despite international obscurity, dika is hardly a minor resource. It provides food and income to rural communities in almost twenty countries. In several countries—Cameroon, Nigeria, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea, for instance—it is one of the most widely sold of all forest products. Millions count on it for cash during the harvest season.
Throughout its native range the tree providing these valued fruits and seeds is among the most appreciated natural resources. When forests are cleared dikas are universally left untouched. Those treasured, multi-branched specimens topped by dense and often curving canopies of foliage are to be seen scattered through many secondary forests.
In season these companionable trees, which can grow as high as 40 m, become laden with green-and-yellow fruits that look like small mangoes. Depending on the species, the fruits vary between sweet and bitter.1 Although the sweet version is mainly enjoyed fresh, it is also turned into jelly, jam, or “African-mango juice.” There’s even been an attempt to make dika wine—the result, so its maker claims, being compared in tastings to a Moselle Riesling.2
Seen in Africa-wide perspective, however, the fruit is a tiny resource compared to the seed. Each year harvesters gather “dika nuts” by the thousands of tons. The hard round balls, which look something like smooth walnuts, must be cracked open to get to the edible part. The kernels found inside have the texture normal to nuts and can be eaten raw or roasted like
In recent years the two forms of this versatile plant have been proposed as separate species but acceptance has been incomplete. The “eating type,” which yields good fresh fruits, retains the original name Irvingia gabonensis. The “cooking type,” whose seeds are widely processed across West Africa, is called Irvingia wombolu. Harris, D.J. 1996. A revision of the Irvingiaceae in Africa. Bull. Jard. Bot. Belg. 65:143-196.
The wine produced after 28 days of fermentation had 8.12 percent alcohol content. Akubor, P.I. 1996. The suitability of African bush mango juice for wine production. Plant Foods Hum. Nutr. 49:213-219.