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Apart from kiwicha (Amaranthus caudatus) featured previously as our Crop of the Week,  two more amaranth species, namely Amaranthus hypochondriacus and Amaranthus cruentus are used in various parts of the world for their edible grain. Although the leaves of grain amaranths are also highly palatable and nutritionally dense (notably with high contents of protein, vitamin C, carotene, calcium, iron and fibre), these species are predominantly produced as a source of (non-cereal) grain. The genus Amarathus is believed to have originated from Central and South America, and contains some 60 species, all of which are weedy. They often grow spontaneously in fields and disturbed habitats, and some are cultivated.

Amaranthus hypochondriacus

Amaranthus hypochondriacus

The height of plants varies from 0.6 to 2.4 m. They have a main axis that terminates in an apical large branched inflorescence that is typically pigmented with bright colours. The various amaranth species grow well from sea level to the high elevations of tropical mountain valleys. For example, A. caudatus thrives at altitudes of over 3000 meters above sea level in the Andes and the Himalayas. The size of the grains varies from 0.9 to 1.7 mm in diameter and there are 1000 to 3000 seeds in one gram of grain. Seed colour varies from from purple and red to green or gold.

Amaranth protein has twice the lysine content of wheat protein, three times that of maize and the same as milk. The supplementation of a cereal-based diet with amaranth seeds raises the overall value of dietary protein and lends itself for combating protein energy malnutrition.

Aside from its high nutritional content, amaranth is also adaptable to adverse growing conditions. It is hardy against heat and drought, has no major disease problems and requires little maintenance to grow.

 

Amaranthus cruentus

Amaranthus cruentus

For more information on grain amaranth see:

  1. Krishnakumary K. 2011. Grain Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.). Future Crops. Daya Publishing House, New Delhi, India, p. 40-55.
  2. Senft JP, Kauffman CS, Bailey NN. 1981. The Genus Amaranthus: A comprehensive Bibliography. Rodale Press Incorporated, Emmaus, Pennsylvania, USA, 217 pp.

 

 

(Text contributed by Prof. Dr. K.V. Peter from World Noni Research Foundation, Chennai, India;

Photographs of Amaranthus hypochondriacus and Amaranthus cruentus are from Wikimedia Commons)

Noni tree.

Noni tree.

Noni, also known as the Indian mulberry, beach mulberry, cheese fruit and hog apple, grows well in open coastal regions and up to 1000 metres above sea level. It thrives in all types of soil with good drainage, and is even tolerant against alkalinity and saline water. The tree can grow up to 10 m tall, and 12 months-old plants start producing fruits all year round. The fruit is a multiple fruit (syncarp) and is oval in shape, measuring 10-20 cm in size. Mature noni fruits have a pungent taste that many people will find repelling.

Southeast Asia possesses considerable variability of the wild tree and Polynesian migrants introduced the plant to Australia and India. In the Pacific Islands noni has been traditionally used as a famine food. Because of considerable interest in noni as a “nutraceutical” it has been introduced into many tropical countries in recent years.

Noni plants yield an average of 50 to 150 fruits per tree, or 5 to 15 kg per tree in the initial years of bearing and the yield increases as years pass on. The fruits are mainly processed into fruit drinks and nutritional supplements.

At the national symposia on noni research held in Hyderabad (2006), Chennai (2007), New Delhi (2008), Chennai (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012) and at the World Noni Congress in Chennai (2010) case studies have been presented on the health-promoting and therapeutical properties of noni. Major compounds like scopoletin, caprylic acid, vitamin C, terpenoids, alkaloids, anthraquinones, beta-sitosterol, carotenes, vitamin A, amino acids, and aucubin were isolated. Xeronine is a compound in noni juice believed to cause beneficial effects.

For more information on noni see: Peter PI, Peter KV. 2008. Monograph on Noni (Morinda citrifolia L.). World Noni Research Foundation, Chennai, India, 863 pp.

(Text contributed by Prof. Dr. P.I. Peter and Prof. Dr. K.V. Peter from World Noni Research Foundation, Chennai, India)

Noni fruit branch with ripe (far left) and unripe fruits (far right).

Noni fruit branch with ripe (far left) and unripe fruits (far right).

Noni fruits and flowers.

Noni fruits and flowers.

Maya nut tree

Maya nut tree. Photo credit: Erika Vohman

Maya Nut is a large neotropical forest tree. It produces a nutritious and delicious seed, which was used as food by pre-Columbian people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Maya Nut trees are enormous and can reach 45 m in height and over 2 m in diameter. Trees grown in plantations in full sun with regular weeding to reduce competition for water and nutrients grow much faster than trees in natural forest and will produce seed in the 4th year. Maya Nut grows at altitudes ranging from 0-1800 meters above sea level and is highly adaptable. It thrives in dry, shallow, alkaline soils as well as in rich humid soils, and does not seem to be affected significantly by diseases or insects.

Maya Nut is known by more than 150 different indigenous and local names including Ujuxte, Ojoche, Breadnut, Capomo, Mojo, Mojote, Guaimaro, Manchinga, Ramon, Sande, Ox, Huje and others. It is a neotropical species ranging from northern Mexico (Sonora) to the Brazilian Amazon, Cuba, Jamaica and Trinidad. It is presumed extinct on Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. It has been introduced and is flourishing in Florida, California, Hawaii, Haiti, and Puerto Rico. It was introduced to India in the 1800’s but is not currently reported there.

Maya Nut shows alternate bearing, producing massive quantities of seed one year, and little or even no seed the next. Some populations are reported to produce no seed at all for up to 3 consecutive years. Fruits mature within a 6-8 week period and individual trees can be extremely prolific, producing up to 400 kg of seed per harvest, in extreme cases!

Maya Nut boasts exceptional nutritional, agronomic and culinary properties, making it fun to cook with and add to traditional and more modern recipes. It is not a true nut, but a berry. It must be ground into a powder for consumption because it is extremely hard. Maya nut powder is much like cocoa, and can be added to bread, cookies, cake, pancakes, oatmeal, porridge, yogurt, ice cream. It can also be used to make flavourful hot and cold drinks to substitute coffee and cocoa!

(Text contributed by Erika Vohman, Maya Nut Institute, Colorado, United States)

Maya nut

Maya nut. Photo credit: Erika Vohman

Male flowering branch. Branch with unripe fruits. Ripe fruit.

Male flowering branch. Branch with unripe fruits. Ripe fruit. Photo by Chad Husby, Montgomery Botanical Center, Florida.

Bread and cookies made by maya nut

Bread and cookies made by maya nut. Photo credit: Francisco Sagastume

Njangsa fruits

Njangsa is a fast-growing, buttressed tree of the Euphorbiaceae that is of common distribution throughout tropical West Africa and can reach 50 m height. The tree grows spontaneously from seed and is often preserved near forest villages. It is highly valued for its edible seeds that have high oil and protein content, but more importantly, are popular as a flavouring agent in cooking because of their unique aroma, described as peppery and reminiscent of cocoa. Use of njangsa seems to be particularly popular in Cameroon, and local names for the product appear to have the highest diversity in that country.

Our monograph and extension manual of njangsa, published a few years ago, as well as this undated, but very informative report from Southern Cameroon, seem to be the only comprehensive monographic treatments of this rather important species. You will find there much information on its economic botany, post-harvest processing and uses.

Njangsa kernels for sale in Cameroon

Njangsa kernels for sale in Cameroon

Njangsa fruits are non-dehiscent, so they are generally left in heaps for a few weeks for the pericarp to rot away. The seeds (or “kernels”) are very hard and require prolonged boiling before de-shelling, which involves much drudgery. An improved processing method has been developed by the World Agroforestry Centre but this report is silent on whether it affects the flavour of the product. Simple kernel-cracking machines have also been developed to avoid the tedious task of de-shelling the kernels manually. The dried kernels are traded and fetch good prices. Before use in cooking, they are roasted and pounded into a paste.

Various parts of the njangsa tree are used for medicinal purposes. Its timber is buoyant (similar to balsa). It is easy to carve and used for the resonant parts of musical instruments, and for fetish Kuba masks of the Congo such as the pictured one. There is a bewildering diversity of common names for this species across tropical Africa. We have chosen “njangsa” as this is also the term used in Wikipedia, although differently spelled variants of that “Cameroonian” term seem to be frequent (njansang, ndjanssang, etc.).

A species closely related to njangsa is the mongongo tree (Schinziophyton rautanenii, previously included in genus Ricinodendron), which is common in Southern Africa. It also has edible seeds, which are high in oil and protein content, and have served as a staple to nomadic people in Botswana and Namibia.

Njangsa tree

Njangsa tree

Njangsa flowering shoot

Njangsa flowering shoot

Kuba mask made from njangsa timber (D.R. Congo)

Kuba mask made from njangsa timber (D.R. Congo)

10-year old hanza tree. Location: Zinder, Republic of Niger

10-year old hanza tree. Location: Zinder, Republic of Niger

Called “hanza” or “dilo” in the Haussa language of Niger, this perennial bush grows up to a height of three meters in its native and drought-stressed environment of stony slopes and cracking-clay plains of the Sahel (rainfall 100-600mm). It flowers from October to December and the ripe fruits become available for human consumption from June to July. Still widely used in the Sahel as a famine food, hanza is an important element of Niger’s food traditions. The Peulh people have been eating hanza seeds in times of abundance. The Touareg use them especially in the cold season and in the Zinder region, the “gara”, a traditional assortment of foods the bride receives on her wedding day, typically contained debittered hanza.

Mature hanza fruits ready for consumption. Location: Zinder, Republic of Niger

Mature hanza fruits ready for consumption. Location: Zinder, Republic of Niger

The ripe hanza fruits contain a delicious sweet jelly that surrounds the seeds and that can be either used for direct consumption or be made into syrup. The remaining seeds are the more significant product. After drying they can be stored for extended periods and they are protected from insects because of their bitter taste. To render the seeds edible they need to be soaked in water for several days, changing water regularly. After processing the seeds they assume a texture and taste reminiscent of chickpeas. They are rich in protein (25% of dry matter), carbohydrates (60%), zinc and iron, and they are used in stews, soups, and porridges. They can also be dried again and ground to yield flour that is then used in a variety of bakery products.

The genus Boscia includes almost a dozen species bearing edible fruits in Africa, of which B. angustifolia and B. albitrunca are the two better-known species.

(Text and pictures contributed by Renate Garvi-Bode and Josef Garvi, Aridité Prospère “Cida Kanka”, Zinder, Republic of Niger)

Debittered hanza seeds ready for cooking or processing into hanza flour. Location: Zinder, Republic of Niger

Debittered hanza seeds ready for cooking or processing into hanza flour. Location: Zinder, Republic of Niger

Hanza stew with tomatoes and onions. Location: Zinder, Republic of Niger

Hanza stew with tomatoes and onions. Location: Zinder, Republic of Niger

Canned hanza seed and bread and cookies made from hanza flour. Location: Zinder, Republic of Niger

Canned hanza seed and bread and cookies made from hanza flour. Location: Zinder, Republic of Niger

Mountain papaya. Locality: Rionegro, Colombia. Photo courtesy: Michael Hermann

Only one species of the Caricaceae made it to world fame: the papaya! However, there are at least 13 other species in the closely related genus Vasconcellea, all of which are distributed in the Andean highlands. Our favourite is the pictured V. pubescens (syn. V. cundimarcensis), locally called “papayuela”, and often seen near rural houses at altitudes between 2000 and 3000 m.a.s.l. Unlike the papaya, the fruits of this species cannot be eaten raw, but brief cooking with some sugar renders the fruit flesh soft and provides a delightful dessert. Strangely, the imported and similarly textured peach conserves dominate the trade in the Andean countries, although its floral fragrance makes papayuela a much superior substitute. This is clearly a neglected crop, warranting more development. Mountain papayas don’t seem to have spread to other tropical mountainous areas as have New World solanaceous fruits and passion fruits. However, if you know of the use of Vasconcellea outside the Andes, we would be keen to know!

Sea-buckthorn. Location: Bonn, Germany

Sea-buckthorn. Location: Bonn, Germany

Sea buckthorn is a hardy shrub with edible berries from cold-temperate Eurasia. It grows well on marginal sites, fixes nitrogen and because of its dense rooting system is much used in erosion control in China.  The nutrient-dense berries (borne on female plants) yield a delicious syrup, as well as pulp and seed oil used in cosmetics. But it’s not all good news. The small berry size, the force required to pull off the berries, and the thorniness of the plant make harvesting difficult. So, don’t jump to the facile dismissal of capital-intensive mechanical harvesting technology developed specifically for sea buckthorn, when indeed it brings down production costs dramatically. Mechanical harvesting involves cutting off, freezing and threshing fruit bearing branches as seen in this video. There is also potential to select superior planting material with greater fruits and fewer thorns. The genus Hippophae has several lesser-known useful species. We would be delighted to feature such species here if you would like to share with us otherwise inaccessible information and pictures.

Cherimoya in Cali, Colombia

Cherimoya in Cali, Colombia

Cherimoya (Annona cherimola), with its impeccable white flesh and unique flavour that balances a floral fragrance with sweetness and pleasant acidity, is probably the tastiest of all table fruits in the large tropical genus Annona. A native crop from the Andes with some commercial production in Peru and Chile, cherimoya has potential for wider use in tropical highlands.  However, hand pollination may be needed to ensure fruit set. There is much unexploited variation of fruit characters in native seedling populations but markets prefer the smooth-skinned varieties shown in this picture from Colombia. Indeed, some clonal varieties, such as the Peruvian “Cherimoya de Cumbe” are so highly valued that this quality label is being misappropriated by suppliers of cherimoyas of inferior quality.

Cherimoya field report from southern Spain

Monkey Jack : Photo courtesy Balaram Mahalder

Monkey Jack : Photo courtesy Balaram Mahalder

Barhal (also known as Monkey jack) is one of the 60 tree species of the Southeast Asian genus Artocarpus, of which half a dozen species produce edible fruits. Jackfruit (A. heterophyllus) and breadfruit (A. altilis) are now distributed throughout the tropics. The other edible species are of a restricted regional distribution, such as barhal, a perennial deciduous tree of minor economic importance in the humid sub-Himalayan regions of India. Its edible fruits have an intense yellow colour, and peculiar taste reminiscent of citrus. The work of Prof Dwivedi of Ambedkar University, India, on the food value of barhal suggests that the wider use of this species is probably constrained by low yields, high perishability and lack of demand.

Barhal, a little-known fruit from northern India

Because of its nutritional excellence and ease of cultivation, this leaf vegetable deserves greater use and research attention. Its high content of proteins, vitamins and minerals needs to be communicated to consumers in order to stimulate the demand for its production. This crop has C4-type photosynthesis and is therefore productive under hot and dry conditions, a trait of increasing value in the face of climate change.

[Photo courtesy Forest & Kim Starr]

Cleome gynandra (flowers). Location: Maui, Kanaha Beach

Cleome gynandra (flowers). Location: Maui, Kanaha Beach

Cleome gynandra (flowers). Location: Maui, Kanaha Beach

Cleome gynandra (flowers). Location: Maui, Kanaha Beach