Using tree food recipes to fight off malnutrition

A baobab tree Village women collect baobab leaves from a tree in Burkina Faso

"You can make a lovely smoothie with baobab powder, apple juice, some natural yoghurt and a handful of blueberries."

Chef Malcolm Riley, whose family come from Zambia, but is now based in the UK, is a real enthusiast in spreading the word about the nutritional properties of African tree foods.

But as well as providing tasty variety for more affluent consumers, tree foods like baobab and moringa are helping to prevent malnutrition during the hungry season.

Long periods without rain occur virtually every year across the Sahel region - which runs across Africa, south of the Sahara - through countries like Burkina Faso.

At Reo orphanage, in Sanguié in south western Burkina Faso, moringa is regularly on the menu for the children.

Known locally as the "tree of paradise", much of the plant is edible. Its leaves are rich in vitamins A, B and C. Just 100g of fresh moringa leaves contains four times the amount of calcium found in the same quantity of milk.

A boy from the orphanage eating his meal fortified with moringa leaves A boy from the orphanage eats his midday meal fortified with moringa leaves

Marie Bassole who is a nurse and manager of the orphanage says the children who eat moringa are far less likely to be malnourished.

"There is a real difference between children fed on moringa and those who don't eat it. Those who get malaria get better quicker if they have moringa in their diet."

'Leafy couscous'

In north west Burkina Faso there is an emergency feeding centre in Barbouli. Malnutrition is a fact of life for 40% of the rural poor in these communities. Families tell of crop failures and how they and their children are having to survive on just one meal a day.

An hour's drive away in the village of Bangmiogo, one of the residents Aicha Oudrago lives with her five children.

Start Quote

There is a real difference between children fed on moringa and those who don't eat it.”

End Quote Marie Bassole orphanage manager

She leaves the village at dawn each morning with other women to gather baobab leaves.

"If we have any flour we can combine this with the leaves to make a leafy couscous. We also cook the seeds, boiling them in hot water, the same as you would green peas."

Aicha says that they are 80-90% dependent on tree foods in the lean season: "We eat the dawadawa fruits when they ripen. And in the rainy season we make shea butter."

Yacouba Ouedrago is the regional director of the charity Tree Aid which is working on projects to draw attention to the nutritional and economic benefits of indigenous tree foods. The baobab is central to this as it can survive even if it doesn't rain for 10 years.

Inside the fruit of the baobab pod is dry - it contains just 0.3% moisture. The contents of the pod look a little like sugar cubes, with anything from 30 to 60 pieces inside. These are sieved into a powder which has a unique flavour including citrus notes.

A woman picking and drying moringa leaves Moringa leaves are picked and dried for use in cooking
Moringa magic

Malcolm Riley remembers as a child ignoring the fruit, preferring a juicy mango when it was in season.

But now he lovingly creates recipes from the powder - everything from Victoria sponge cakes to jams.

"Its high pectin content makes it a great thickening agent. If you make ice cream with it you can add less dairy and sugar than you normally would."

The smoky flavour of leaves from the moringa tree works well with tomatoes, onions and salt, though some like to add peanut butter or groundnuts.

He is adapting his taste for African foods to ingredients more freely available in the UK - sometimes substituting the smallest fresh pumpkin leaves for the moringa.

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