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Boab: Adansonia gregorii

Australian Food Plants Study Group

The boab is an iconic tree in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Related species are also found in Madagascar, Africa and India where the tree has been used for centuries as a food source by the local people.

The boab tree flowers in the wet season. The flowers only open at night and look like a large tulip. Common names include boabab, bottle tree, monkey fruit tree, cream of tartar tree, sour gourd tree and upside-down tree.

For thousands of years the Aborigines used every part of this tree - the bark for twine, the porous trunk for moisture, and the fruit for food and medicine. The hard fruit pods are also useful as bowls and utensils. The thick, furry pod contains segments of fruit, a little like dried apple in texture. The fruit is very high in Vitamin C (many more times that of oranges) and has an almost citrussy flavour. It is also very rich in minerals.

The earliest recorded consumption of the fruit dates back to the ancient Egyptians. Although the fruit is not native to Egypt, it has been reported to have been found in Egyptian tombs.

Boab Fruit Nutritional Analysis
Ascorbic Acid per l00g4.5
Sodium per l00g10
Riboflavin per l00g2673
Thiamin per l00g0.01
Magnesium per l00g209
Calcium per l00g250
Iron per l00g6

Aboriginal usage included grinding the fruit to make a flour for cooking, and using the fruit to treat stomach pain.

The seeds are said to make a coffee-like brew when boiled, and the fruit has been turned into an interesting array of culinary delights such as boab chocolate, boab bread, boab muffins and cakes, and even dry-roasted chunks sprinkled on a salad.

Now some enterprising locals in the Kimberley town of Kununurra are developing boab products as a mainstream food. Melissa Boot uses the food in chocolate which she markets commercially.

Adansonia gregorii  Adansonia gregorii - flower 
  Boab - Adansonia gregorii
Left: Habit; Above: Flowers
Photos: Aussie Outback Tours; Michale Tutt

The Western Australian Agriculture Department, in conjunction with local growers, has been trialling young boab plants as a new vegetable. The Department's researchers believe the boab root is very easy to grow and has great potential to be accepted as a conventional vegetable, rather than be branded an exotic "bush food". So far they are selling about 30 bunches a week through local fruit shops and off the farm. The crisp juicy roots reportedly taste a little like a radish or water chestnut, while the tender leaves have a pleasant peppery flavour. Both may be eaten raw or cooked.

The growing of a seedling boab as a vegetable was taken from a Madagascan source, trialled in the Kimberleys by locals, and now on a larger scale by growers Denise Hales and Peter Fox. The trial has taken place with the assistance of funding by RIRDC* and the Western Australian Department of Agriculture. The crop is grown from seed and, depending on the time of year, takes 6 to 10 weeks to be ready for consumption.

Kununurra chef, Richard Horan, has been experimenting with the young boab plants - boiling, pureeing and roasting them. He says that when sliced the root has a sweet parsnip-like flavour. He also uses sliced boab root in a paperbark parcel to top steamed fresh barramundi, and fresh boab diced with mango and doused with Bacardi rum for an accompanying salsa.

* RIRDC - Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation

From the newsletter of the Australian Native Plants Society (Canberra), September 2005 (originally from ASGAP's Australian Food Plants Study Group, January 2005).

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