I’ve never had the pleasure of sitting in the shade of a thousand-year old baobab tree, but my kids and I absolutely love to make creamy frozen yogurt with it’s highly nutritious fruit pulp. Pronounced “BEY–oh-bab,” this majestic tree is actually a collection of nine species that grow throughout Africa, Madagascar and Australia.
Popularly known as the “Tree of Life,” the Adansonia digitata species creates its own ecosystem in the dry climates where it thrives, providing shelter and nourishment for both people and animals. It’s also known as the Monkey Bread tree, Magic tree, Cream of Tartar tree (because it’s used as a substitute) and Upside-down tree.
That last one is because during the dry season its leaves drop off, making its branches look like the roots of an upside down trunk reaching into the sky.
Every part of the baobab tree – leaves, fruit pulp, seeds and bark – has been traditionally used for food, medicine, and to make household goods like woven baskets, rope, cloth and fishing nets.
It functions somewhat like a giant succulent – in fact, the trunk of a single baobab tree can hold up to 1189 gallons of water, making it a valuable resource when rivers and watering holes dry up. (1)
The uniqueness of the baobab doesn’t stop there, though. It’s water-rich trunk is strangely opposite its fruit, which is one of only two types in the world that dries naturally on the branch. Over the course of about six months, the baobab fruit’s exterior changes from something that resembles a mango to a smooth, hard brown shell that looks like a coconut.
Although you crack baobab fruit just like you would a coconut, the flavor and texture of the inside is very different. The cream-colored pulp dries on the branch into a crumbly powder with a sour, tropical flavor.
Health Benefits of Baobab Fruit Powder
Because it dries naturally on the branch, baobab fruit powder requires almost no processing – no pasteurization, heat extraction or solvents that could degrade precious nutrients like vitamin C. All you have to do is separate the powder from the peel and grind it up so that it’s not clumpy.
Just like we have chicken soup, baobab fruit is traditionally used to provide nutritive support during times of illness, particularly fevers and illnesses that cause diarrhea. It’s richer in potassium than bananas, which are often given during illness to help replenish electrolytes. (Think B.R.A.T. diet – bananas, applesauce, rice and toast.)
Although the exact nutrient content of baobab fruit powder will depend on where its grown and seasonal variations, this superfruit is rich in:
- Vitamin C (7-10 times more than oranges) (2)
- Vitamin B6
- Antioxidants (More than acai, goji berries, pomegranate or blueberries)
- Soluble and insoluble fiber
- Prebiotic fiber (Which nourishes beneficial bacteria)
- Magnesium (5 times more than avocados) (2)
- Potassium (6 times more than bananas) (2)
- Calcium (2 times more than cow’s milk) (2)
These nutrients work synergistically for our benefit in many ways, including:
#1- Immune Support
According to this study, vitamin C supports “various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system.”
Our bodies don’t make vitamin C, so the only way to optimize levels is through dietary intake. The baobab powder I use contains around 40-50 mg of vitamin C per serving, plus bioflavonoids which help the body absorb and use vitamin C. (2)(3)
#2 – Gut Health
About 50% of baobab fruit powder is made up of soluble and insoluble fiber. The majority is soluble fiber, which:
- Acts as a prebiotic, aka nourishing food for the beneficial bacteria that live in our digestive tract that vitamin K2 for us, support immune function, help us digest food, and more
- Dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that slows down how quickly we digest sugars and fats
The insoluble fiber is beneficial as well – it doesn’t dissolve in water and therefore travels through the digestive system intact, adding bulk that speeds up the processing and elimination of waste.
#3 – Blood Sugar Balance
As mentioned above, baobab is rich in soluble fiber that slows down how quickly we digest sugars and fats. This helps our bodies manage blood sugar better while avoiding energy spikes and crashes.
In a study done at Oxford Brooks University, volunteers ate white bread with baobab extract baked in OR drank a glass of water with baobab mixed in alongside their slice of white bread. The study found that the extract reduced glycemic response (blood sugar) and starch digestion.
#4 – Counteracts Oxidative Stress
If you’ve ever seen a rusty can, you know what oxidative stress looks like on metal. Though it’s harder to “see” on a cellular level, excessive amounts of free radicals – which our bodies produce as byproducts of metabolism, stress, and exposure to toxins – lead to accelerated aging and several disease processes.
Fortunately, baobab is rich in antioxidants, which are “natural substances whose job is to clean up free radicals. Just like fiber cleans up waste products in the intestines, antioxidants clean up the free radical waste in the cells.” (4) (5) (6)
#5 – Healthy Skin
Vitamin C, along with proline and glycine (found in bone broth and gelatin), protein, and zinc are essential for collagen synthesis. (source) Collagen is one of the main proteins that help keep skin supple.
Baobab oil – which is pressed from the seeds – also makes an excellent moisturizer. It’s a rich oil that has a soft pleasant aroma, loads of vitamin E, and three rare fatty acids that nourish skin: malvalic, sterculic, and dihydrosterculic. You can find it here.
#6 – Heart Health
Baobab fruit is a rich source of potassium, which helps maintain healthy blood pressure by stimulating the release of sodium via urine and easing tension within the walls of blood vessels. (7)
How To Use Baobab Powder
Baobab fruit powder can be:
- Mixed into water with a little sweetener to make a drink similar to lemonade
- Used as a replacement for cream of tartar in recipes
- Blended into smoothies
- Added to frozen yogurt or sorbet (the high pectin content makes it a wonderful thickener)
- Swirled into yogurt
- Stirred into oatmeal (I highly recommend adding peaches, too)
- Mixed into plain water for an easy electrolyte drink after a workout
- Blended into homemade energy bars
- Added to chia seed pudding
Does baobab powder have any side effects?
According to Phytopharmacy: An Evidence-Based Guide to Herbal Medicinal Products, the fruit pulp is generally regarded as safe and has no known contraindications. However, they say that the other parts of the plant which are sometimes used therapeutically (leaves and bark) should not be used while pregnant/breastfeeding or long-term due to lack of safety data on them.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is if your body is not used to dietary fiber you may experience some bloating, gas, or constipation. For most people it’s not a problem if normal amounts are consumed, but some people find it helpful to start small and work their way up.
Where To Buy Baobab Powder
I use this brand, which contains about 40-50 mg of vitamin C per serving. In addition to providing a high quality product, they’ve made it their mission to support the local communities that harvest baobab through ethical trade and sustainable practices.
1. TripSavvy (2019) The Baobab: Fun Facts About Africa’s Tree of Life
2. Rahul, Jitin et. al. (2015) Adansonia digitata L. (baobab): a review of traditional information and taxonomic description
3. Althwab, Sami et. al. (2019) Protective Effect of Baobab Fruit Pulp (Adansonia digitata L.) from Oxidative Stress Induced in Rats by High-Fat Diet
4. Live Science (2016) What Are Free Radicals?
7. Medical News Today. What can people do to lower diastolic blood pressure?