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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume II: Vegetables
2 BAMBARA BEAN
In recent centuries the once-obscure peanut has expanded so dramatically as to become one of the world’s top crops. Of particular importance to Africa, the peanut (there mostly known as groundnut) contributes substantial nutrition to roughly three-dozen nations encompassing two vast belts, one stretching from Senegal to the Central African Republic and the other from Sudan to South Africa. Indeed, considered in continental perspective, peanut is among the largest African food providers—probably coming right after maize, cassava, and sorghum.
What is surprising is that peanut is a Brazilian native that reached Africa’s shores only 400 years ago. And what is even more surprising is that Africa possesses its own counterpart. This local version is similar in virtually every aspect—botanical, agronomic, nutritional, and culinary. Yet while the exotic crop soars to ever-greater heights its stay-at-home cousin languishes almost unknown to agricultural science, food science, economic development, and the world at large.
This African species (Vigna subterranea) is a low-growing legume, not unlike its famous relative in appearance. Often called bambara groundnut, it is conventionally classified a bean, but its seeds are actually dug from the ground like peanuts. To outsiders, only the shape seems unusual: the pods are larger and rounder than peanut shells and the seeds inside are shaped more like peas than peanuts. Those spherical legumes are, however, exceptionally tasty and nutritious. They are also attractive—appearing in varying colors and patterns, characterized by pretty local names such as doveeyes, nightjar, and butterfly.
Like peanut, these native ground beans make a versatile food. Most are boiled in their shells and are offered for sale, ready cooked, on roadsides and in markets. Others are pounded into flour and used in making porridge. Some are boiled with maize meal and used in a relish. A few are also roasted or fried. The flour from the roasted version is especially appetizing and is blended into many traditional dishes.
Although overlooked by the world at large, this is an important resource. Burkina Faso provides a picture of the crop in microcosm. All regions of the