Brussels has given the green light to the sale of products containing the fruit pulp of the African baobab tree.
The nutrient-rich ingredient has been declared safe under the European Commission's novel foods approval procedures, clearing the way for its use in products such as snacks and beverages.
The fruit is said to contain up to three times more vitamin C than oranges, with just 10g — or a third of an ounce — supplying a quarter of the recommended daily intake. It also contains natural prebiotic fibre in the form of pectins and high levels of calcium and iron.
The application for approved status was brought in 2006 by PhytoTrade Africa, a fair trade organisation representing tens of thousands of rural southern African farmers. PhytoTrade Africa now predicted a surge in demand for baobab, offering stiff competition for the fashionable goji berry, said Cyril Lombard, market development manager of PhytoTrade Africa.
"Baobab fruit pulp is an ideal ingredient for cereal bars and smoothies. It has excellent nutritional benefits for the consumers, offering manufacturers a new opportunity to target the growing market for healthy, natural and fair trade foods, while being an easy, adaptable and cost effective ingredient to work with."
The fruit pulp comes from the baobab tree, commonly known as the "upside down tree", which is a common feature of the landscape in southern Africa. It is extracted from gourd-like fruits six to eight inches long, with a hard outer skin and velvety covering. Inside are a powdery fruit pulp and kidney-shaped seeds.
African people call the baobab 'the tree of life' and have long used its fruit pulp to make drinks and as a baking ingredient. It is also a traditional food for pregnant women and children due to its high calcium content.
The optimum level of baobab pulp in products such as smoothies and cereal bars was between 5% and 10%, as determined by preliminary work by consultancy Leatherhead Food International, said Phytotrade Africa. Other uses were expected to include biscuits and confectionery, as well as fruit juices and sports beverages.
Following novel foods approval, PhytoTrade Africa would be focusing resources on supporting the development of the supply chain and production capacity to meet European demand, said Lombard.
"Approval for baobab is fantastic news for Africa," he added. "Opening up the European market to this product will make a real difference to poor rural communities there, offering them a potentially life-changing source of income."
A recent report by Ben Bennett of the UK's Natural Resources Institute found that sustainable wild harvesting of baobab fruit could generate trade worth up to US$1 billion a year for African producers.