(Adansonia digitata – Family Bombacaceae)
Baobab, sour gourd, monkey bread, cream of tartar tree, hou mian bao (Chinese)
Baobab comes from a broad spreading tree with a thick spongy trunk that can be thirty feet in diameter.
In full leaf, flower, and fruit, it is one of the most beautiful of trees. Native to tropical Africa, it bears fruit whose pulp is a popular food and seasoning.
Its other name, the cream of tartar tree, refers to the tartaric acid found in the whitish yellow pulp, which is also very rich in ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
The indigenous tribes use the pulp to sour milk. Various kinds of porridge and gruel are also made from the seeds or the flesh, while the leaves are often used as a vegetable.
Throughout the large seed pod, there are small black seeds, about the size of a pea, imbedded in the pulp. These are used in the diet, especially during drought. The seeds, when roasted, are eaten like peanuts or as a coffee substitute and have an oil content of up to 11%.
About 300 years ago, the tree was especially useful to the natives in Angola, who used the fibers to make a coarse cloth.
Today, strings and ropes are still made from these trees to sew the umbrella fern or papyrus mats, for bird and animal snares, and for their hunting nets.
The earliest description of baobab was in 1454 by Cadamosto, who found one tree at the mouth of the Senegal having a circumference of 112 feet.
The large seed cones are about eight inches long, hairy when young, and hard-shelled when mature, and containing a bready-type matter used by the aborigines.