Monkey Oranges: Mouthwatering Potential

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By Matt Styslinger

Monkey oranges have all the characteristics of a successful crop–high productivity, high prices, extended shelf life, pest resistance, delicious flavor, and high demand. But , the fruit remains undomesticated and has rarely undergone organized cultivation.

Monkey oranges are a popular and delicious African wild fruit. (Photo Credit: U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization)

Monkey orange trees—similar in shape and size to apple, pear, and orange trees—are a highly coveted African wild fruit tree, and farmers will often leave them standing when clearing land for cultivation of field crops. The fruit is difficult to find and in short supply because it is in such high demand, a demand which is typically unmet in African markets.

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. It is traditionally eaten raw, or made into jam, juice, or fruit wine.

The trees bear abundant fruit, which sell at very high prices in local markets. A mature tree can bear 300 to 400 fruits per year. Indigenous to tropical and subtropical Africa, they are capable of growing in arid and semi-arid areas and in poor and rocky soils. Their tough outer shells make them resistant to fungi and fruit flies and protect them from being easily damaged in transport and storage. They have an exceptional ability to remain edible in tropical heat for months after fruit maturity. Monkey oranges could be used to produce juices and dry fruit rolls commercially, and the fruit tree has been introduced into Israel for potential commercial crop development.

Monkey oranges are an important indigenous African resource that supports farmers in times of crop failure, and are a 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. In this way, promotion of monkey orange trees could potentially foster sustainable development in rural, sub-Saharan African communities.

To learn more about crops indigenous to Africa, see: The Locust Bean: An Answer to Africa’s Greatest Needs in One Tree, Moringa: The Giving Tree, Black-eyed Peas to the Rescue, The Taming of the Dika: West Africa’s Most Eligible Wild Tree, Sorghum: Rise to Prominence, Amaranth: Food Production Without Attention, African Eggplant: The Fruit that is Enjoyed as  Vegetable,The Little Legume That Could, and The Locust Bean: An Answer to Africa’s Greatest Needs in One Tree.

Matt Styslinger is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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