No single fruit can put an end to hunger. But worldwide there are many different fruits and vegetables that are helping to improve nutrition and diets, while increasing incomes and improving livelihoods.
Today, Nourishing the Planet features five fruits that you have likely never heard of that are helping to alleviate hunger and poverty.
1. Monkey Oranges: Similar in shape and size to apple, pear, and orange trees, Monkey Oranges are a highly coveted African wild fruit tree, and farmers will often leave them standing when clearing land for cultivation of field crops.
Monkey oranges are a popular and delicious African wild fruit. (Photo Credit: U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization)
Best Way to Eat It: It is traditionally eaten raw, or made into jam, juice, or fruit wine. The grapefruit-sized fruit tends to be yellow, orange, or brown, and emits a sweet scent with a touch of clove. They are known for their delicious sweet and sour flavor and are rich in vitamin C and in B vitamins.
Monkey Oranges in Action: Monkey oranges are an important indigenous African resource that support farmers in times of crop failure, providinga supplemental food in rural areas. By adding them to crop fields, gardens, parks, fence lines, and street sides they can boost food security and nutrition. They are a source of shade and erosion protection, and the wood is commonly used for firewood, tool handles, and building poles.
2. Ackee: The ackee tree (Blighia sapida) is indigenous to the tropical forests of West Africa. Although it is not popularly eaten there, it is cultivated in the region for several nonfood uses: immature fruits are used to make soap; the wood from the tree is termite resistant and used for building; extracts from the poisonous seeds are taken to treat parasites and are sometimes used as a fish poison; topical ointment made from crushed ackee leaves is applied to the skin to treat headaches and ulcers. And the Ackee leaves are also good as a fodder for goats.
Best Way to Eat It: Ackee fruit has a creamy texture and a mild flavor. It is commonly eaten with meat dishes as a side vegetable. It is very nutritious, high in fatty acids and rich in protein, potassium, iron, and Vitamin C. But be careful, both the skin and seeds of the ackee are poisonous. They contain toxic hypoglycins levels and can even be fatal. Care must be taken in harvesting the fruit at the right time and in the preparation of an ackee dish.
Ackee in Action: In tropical West Africa—where ackee trees are indigenous, well-adapted, and utilized for other purposes—the safe preparation and nutritious value of the ackee arils supports food security and rural incomes.
3. Wild Ethiopian Coffee: Of the two globally cultivated coffee species (Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora)—commonly known as Arabica and Robusta—Arabica is the most admired and dominates 70 percent of all coffee production. The species naturally occurs exclusively in the isolated highland forests of Southern Ethiopia.
Best Way to Eat It: For thousands of years, people living in the Ethiopian highlands have traditionally been roasting coffee berries and grinding them in a mortar. Coffee is often served with hot water and sugar to guests as part of a ritual of hospitality and respect.
Wild Ethiopian Coffee in Action: In 2007, Slow Food International started training 64 gatherers in Herenna, Ethiopia, on improved harvesting and drying techniques. Gatherers are also trained in organizational and business skills. The goal is to help locals produce a consistent, quality product that can then be marketed worldwide as a specialty product. The added economic value will not only improve the incomes of local people, it could also help slow deforestation as gatherers become better stewards to preserve their product.
4. Tsamma Melon: The Tsamma Melon grows wild in the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa. Like cacti in the deserts of North America, Tsamma melons can store large amounts of water. Tsamma melons include several varieties that range in flavor and texture.
Best Way to Eat It: Sweet varieties are eaten raw like watermelons, while the more bitter, tougher varieties are cooked over coals to soften the flesh. Traditionally, they have also been used as a standby source of water in times of drought.
Tsamma Melon in Action: Native to the desert, Tsammas are very drought-resistant, a trait many domesticated watermelons now lack. This genetic material, largely lost in commercial varieties is being used in breeding new varieties of watermelon that could help to benefit both farmers and the environment.
5. Safou: Native to the humid, tropical forests of West and Central Africa, safou (Dacryodes edulis) is also known as the “butterfruit” for its rich, oily pulp. People in West and Central Africa have been eating safou for centuries as a fresh fruit between meals and cooked as a main course.
Best Way To Eat It: When roasted or quickly boiled in salted water, the pulp separates from the skin and seed and takes on a buttery texture. In Nigeria, cooked pulp is combined with starchy foods like maize to make a main course.
Safou in Action: The World Agroforestry Center promotes safou as a key tree species in agroforestry systems that can be intercropped with food crops to provide shade and biomass while also producing edible fruit. And the UK-based International Centre for Underutilised Crops has been searching for varieties that combine high-quality taste, nutrition, and disease-resistance.
To read more about how fruits you’ve never heard of are helping to end hunger, see: Safou: The Butterfruit, Monkey Oranges: Mouthwatering Potential, Tsamma Melons: Watermelon’s Wild Cousins, Ackee: The West African Expatriate, and Wild Ethiopian Coffee: Harvesting the Perks of an Indigenous Crop.