Following are short summaries of ten notably promising cultivated fruits selected for treatment in this volume’s opening section. The potential of these species to confront humanitarian challenges in Africa is addressed in the sections following these summaries, as well as in Table 1 on page 7. This information is drawn from the detailed chapters that follow their Introduction.
This small tree (Balanites aegyptiaca, Balanitaceae) tolerates heat and aridity so well it thrives into the heart of the Sahara. Deep-rooted and very spiny, it produces heavy yields of date-like fruits whose gummy, yellow-to-red pulp is more than a third sugar. Although these sweet treats are eaten raw, they are more commonly used as ingredients in cooked dishes. Some, however, are crushed and converted into drinks. The fruit also yields a kernel roughly matching sesame and soybean in composition, being about half oil and a third protein. To become edible it must be boiled for some time, but then it can be turned into many tasty items, including roasted snacks and a spread not unlike peanut butter.
Few trees on earth engender respect like baobab (Adansonia digitata, Bombacaceae). Millions believe it receives divine power through the branches that look like arms stretching skyward (see the chapter on baobab as a vegetable in Volume II). Its fruits sometimes attain the size of melons, and their tough outer casings enclose angular packets of a strange, sticky pulp. A few hours in the sun dries this semisolid into a free-flowing, soluble powder. The resulting “baobabfruit flour” has a gingerbread flavor enlivened by a not unpleasant acid bite. It is nutritious enough to be stirred into warm water or milk to create a health drink. The fruit also contains nuts with an almond-like taste. Although difficult to get at (owing to a thick shell) the nuts are valued foodstuffs, eaten fresh, fermented, or roasted like peanuts. They are rich in both food energy and quality protein.
Butterfruit (Dacryodes edulis, Burseraceae) may be unknown to the world, but in Central Africa and neighboring sections of West Africa this small tree is an almost universal component of traditional farming. Throughout this broad tropical belt it contributes importantly to nutrition and