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THE MONGONGO/MANKETTI NUT
!Kung Bushmen - //xa, mongongo
Lozi - mungongo
Shona - mungongoma
Tswana - mongongo, mugonga
Herero - mangetti, mongongo
Kwangali - ugongo (ngongo)
Africaans - wilde okkerneut
English - manketti nut, mongongo nut, featherweight tree (the
is very light)
the tree and fruit
Ricinodendron rautaneii is a large (up to 15 metres)
trunked tree, with a broad spreading crown with dark green
of 5 to 7 ovate to elliptical leaflets at the end of a stalk up to
(6 inches) long, not unlike those of Casimiroa edulis. The
are stubby and contorted. There are separate male and female
so solitary specimens will not fruit. In addition, trees take
years to commence fruiting. The tree flowers - depending on local
variations - in Southern Africa's hot dry season, which is around
to December. The small whitish-yellow flowers become a somewhat
plum-like fruit about 3.5 cm long and 2.5 cm wide. The young fruit
first covered in fine small hairs on its thin but tough outer
the skin is a narrow spongy layer, at first green, then turning
brown with maturity. The fruit fall from the tree with the skin
(variably, april to may), and matures on the ground. There, the
brown, and the flesh softens and develops full flavor. This soft
pulp layer is about 20% of the fresh fruit (by volume), pleasantly
and sweet at maturity. Its taste has been compared to a date, and
high in sugars there is not an absolutely high amount:; there is
approximately) 1 gram of sucrose in the dried flesh of
Like many trees of seasonally arid or cold climates, the trees
their leaves every year, towards the end of the cold-dry season of
and winter (variably, about June to the end of August). And it is
time that the last of the ripe fruit fall. They are a lot easier
when the leaves fall at this time, and it is easy to pick up the
fruit. The supply of fruit decreases after winter, as the rainy
(very variably, at some time in the period November to April,
as the 'summer rainfall' area) comes on; insect and animals
fruit where they fall. Even the dried, crumbly flesh of old fruit
-there may be edible dried fruit on the ground for as long as
overlapping the fall of the new crop. Some bushmen remove the
the fresh fruit, dry it in the sun, and store it for use later in
Both Bantu and Bushman peoples use the fruits, with the modern
being to boil the whole fruit to remove the tough and indigestible
skin, and make a sweet, maroon colored porridge - very similar to
apples (British colonial) - from the flesh.
But the sugar content is only part of the story.
The big value is in the seed. The skin takes up 10% of the fruit
volume, the flesh 20%. The remaining 70% is the nut-like seed,
the wide hard shell around it. The 'shell' (endocarp) around the
is very thick indeed, and although porous, it is very hard and
hard that even elephants, which love the sweet fruit, can't crack
"A forester in Rhodesia [Zimbabwe] set this author some
nuts and on the package under the scientific name Ricinodendron,
he had written "recovered from elephant dung". This startled me.
are like oversized pecans which have had smallpox and were
pockmarks. I wrote the forester to ask why the special
he replied that there are three reasons: (1) The elephants eat
greedily and it is much easier to let the elephants do the job
(2) The seed will not germinate until it has spent a week inside
and (3) The elephant enjoys the fruit but his digestive
not affect the extremely hard shell and the nut inside. The
Rhodesia, therefore, follow the elephant, recover the
where they have been dropped, clean and dry them, then crack the
hard shell, and find the contents perfectly delicious."
Elephants, Loxodonta africana, are not the only animals to
on the sweet fruits. The greater Kudu, Tragelaphus strepsiceros,
produces the 'nuts' cleaned of the fruit as well, but from the other
it regurgitates the nuts some time after eating the fallen fruit,
them in neat piles, ready for collection.
Edwin A. Menninger, 'Edible Nuts of the World'.
The Nut Meat
Once collected, the hard shell can be broken between two rocks, and
the single kernel (sometimes there are two) extracted. It is easier
crack if it is roasted in a fire first - or, as in some areas,
in sand and a fire built on top. The kernel or 'nut meat' is
by a hard but thin seed coat which is easy to remove by hand. The
is about the size of a hazelnut (the weight of Botswana and South
African kernels is about 1.4 grams).
The creamy yellow nut meat is oily and nutritious; it is very good
eaten raw, and even more delicious when it is roasted. Indigeous
sometimes mix the nut meat with sand and red hot ashes from the
which the roasted seeds taste like roasted cashews. Curiously, it is
that roasted for longer, they then taste like 'fine old cheese'.
of the kernel
Their nutritional content is outstanding. The kernel is 57% by
fat. Of this, about 43% are polyunsaturated fats (almost entirely
acid), about 17% saturated fats (palmitic and stearic), and about
(oleic). Add the sugars in the fleshy part, and, by one estimate, an
man would meet 71% of his daily energy requirement by eating 100
(kernels and flesh). Indigenous people have been reported as eating
100-300 fruit a day in parts of Namibia.
The kernel has 26 grams of protein per 100grams, an amount similar
to peanuts and other protein rich legumes.
The kernel has, per 100 grams, approximately 193 mg of calcium, 527
mg magnesium, 3.7 mg iron, 2.8 mg copper, 4 mg zinc, 0.3 mg
mg riboflavin, 0.3 mg nicotinic acid, no vitamin C (the flesh has
15 mg), and a stunning 565mg of vitamin e (almost entirely as
Due to the very high y-tocopherol content, the oil is very
and doesn't oxidise into 'rancidity' for a very long time, in spite
the African heat.
That these are a productive tree in their environment is undisputed:
one estimate is that each female tree has around 950 fruit a year,
a sufficient rainy season. In a good year, they may be "knee deep"
the trees, with yeild depending in part on how good the rains of the
year were. In areas where they are the dominant species they can
every 20 metres or so; some large stands have been estimated at up
hectares. In the early 1900's, around 2,000 tons of nuts a year was
from Namibias dryland Tsumeb forests; presumably with little
they were comandeering the local peoples most important food source
an unforgiving environment.
The Manketti is a tree of seasonal drylands, surviving unreliable
temperatures ranging from maybe 14º F in winter to well over 100º
F in summer. In its native Southern Africa it grows in suitable
in a rough band from the Northern Namibia/Southern Angola, past the
pan, the Tsumeb region, through Namibias' Caprivi strip area, the
of Botswana and Southern Zambia, across to Northern Zimbawe, the
of Central Mozambique and Transvaal in South Africa. In it's 'core'
virtually coast to coast in the middle part of Southern Africa (
latitudes 15-21 degrees) on suitable soils it usually occurs in
or more extensive stands, and is either the dominant tree in the
or co-dominant.. Some groves are as much as several hundred metres
and may run for several kilometres.
It's core area is mainly in more upland areas, generally above 1200
metres, although it is found down to 200 metres. It is a rather
species, in that the rainfall varies over the various regions of its
can be from 400mm to 1,000mm. As mentioned, it suvives light frost
to extreme daily highs.
It may be associated with alluvial soils near rivers, but most
with stablised dunes and raised sandy plains of the deep kalahari
It cannot tolerate areas subject to flooding. Generally it is found
mixed open woodlands, and, as mentioned, sometimes as dominant
Outside it's core area it appears only sporadically, or as a small
Where it occurs in mixed woodland, one region in Southern Africa has
found it associated with Afzelia quanzensis, Baikiaea
Burkea africana, Combretum spp., Guibourtia
Pterocarpus angolensis, Strychnos coculoides,
Terminalia sericea .
It is used as a street tree in Victoria Falls, where the Zambesi
falls off the arid southern Zambian plains at North western
There is little information on what attempts have been made to
this extraordinary nut to other areas of the world with suitable
and soil conditions.
Seed was introduced to Australia in the late 1980's; some of the
areas, so long as they are not salinated, may suit it well.
However, I have seen no reports on whether or not the plants
Israeli researcher Dr. Yosef Mizrahi introduced the tree to several
desert sites. So far, some trees could not tolerate the salinised
The best growth has been in Besor, a cooler climatic region. The
became dormant in winter (in December) at this site, and did not
dormancy until quite late - in June. Active growth continued for the
five months, until November.
7 degrees Celscius below freezing was enough to kill young plants.
This will limit the number of sites it can be tried at.
Dr. Mizrahi found germination could generally be started by removing
the hard exocarp and treating the seeds with either ethylene or
Germination is erratic, and takes place over an extended period. The
develop very deep roots very quickly - an adaptation to desert
- and need appropriate nursery practices to accomodate this fact.
Another report says seeds planted in a glasshouse germinated within
one or two weeks when the hard outer exocarp was removed.
heudelotii ssp.africanum is a fairly common species in
of West tropical Africa from Guinea down to Angola, and as far east
Uganda. It has been recorded in Wamba forest, Congo Democratic
(formerly Zaire), more or less right on the equator, as well as in
Mahale Mountains on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, just
the equator, but only at higher altitudes - more than 1,600 metres
sea level. It is a quick to establish, fast growing, straight
tree that is usually around 100 feet high, although sometimes it is
smaller. This species seems to be a relatively early and fairly
colonizer of grasslands, in areas where farming has been abandoned.
is therefore most widespread in secondary forest, rather than mature
There are seperate male and female trees, and trees in drier, more
marginal areas can defoliate and re-grow leaves when moisture
Each fruit contains between two and three kernels. This species has
similar nut to the Mongongo, except that the kernel is a smoother
and the seed coat is a little thicker. It is said to be as good
as the Mongongo nut. It is wild harvested and regularly traded in
in Cameroon, and is one of the major food sources of the Mbuti
of the Ituri forest in Zaire.
Arnold, T. H, Wells M. J., and Wehmeyer A.
S.1985. 'Khoisan food plants: Taxa with potential for future
exploitation' in 'Plants for arid Lands'.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Bainbridge W.R. 1965: 'Distribution of
seed in elephant dung (Acacia, Ricinodendron, Hyphaene)'
Puku 3: 173-175
Biesele M., Bosquet J., Stanford G.1979:
Kalahari food Staple: Ricinodendron rautanenii'.
341-355 in: Goodin J.R. and Northington D.K (ed). 'Arid land
International Center for Arid and Semi-Arid
Studies, Texas Tech Univ. Lubbock.
Botanical Research Institute,
'The Nutrient Composition of Manketti Fruit'
Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria. As reported in the Rare
Fruit Council of Australia Newsletter, May 1988
Botelle A.1999: 'Estimating
Nut Yields in the forest of Western Kavango, Namibia'
CRIAA SA-DC, Windhoek.
Büschel D. 1999: 'A Study of
Resource Utilisation: A case from Namibia, Mpungu Constituency,
District, Northern Namibia'.
CRIAA SA-DC Report, Windhoek, Namibia.
Chakanga M, Korhonen K. and Selänniemi
T. 1998: 'Forest Inventory for Caprivi Region'.
NFFP, Directorate of Forestry, Windhoek.
Fox, F.W. & Norwood Young, M.E. 'Food from the
Delta Books, Johannesburg. 1982. ISBN 0 908387 32 6. Pages 193:195.
Chimbelu E.G. 1983. 'The availability,
use and Management potentials of Mungongo (Ricinodendron
Schinz): A Case study of the Southern Shungu Region,
Ph.D. Thesis, State University of New York.
Chimbelu, E.G. 1988: 'Developing
tree resources through community needs and values.' In:
& Sinyangwe, I. (eds.) 'Utilizing Local Resources for
Proceedings of the 9th PWPA Conference, Eastern, Central and
held at Musungwa Lodge, Zambia, July, 1988. 1990. pp.
Coates Palgrave K. 1983. 'Trees of
Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
Du Plessies P. 1999: 'Report on the
Stakeholder Workshop held on 9th July, 1999'.
CRIAA SA-DC, NTFP 1, Windhoek
Dyer R.A.1975: 'The Genera of
African Flowering Plants'.
Department of Agricultural Technical
Pretoria; ISBN 0 621 02854 1
Erkkilä A and Siiskonen H. 1992:
in Namibia 1850-1990'.
Silva Carelica 20 244p.
Geldenhuys C.J. 1977: 'The Effect
Regimes of Annual Burning on Two Woodland Communities in
African Journal of Forestry, 103: pp32-42
Helgren D.M. 1982: 'Edaphic
of the Mongongo (Ricinodendron rautanenii) in the
South African Journal of Science Vol.
Idani, G., Kuroda, S., Kano, T., & Asato, R. 1994.
and vegetation of Wamba Forest, Central Zaire with reference to
(Pan paniscus) foods.'
TROPICS 3 (3/4): pages 309-332, 1994.
Keegan A.B. 1982: 'Dormancy and
of the Manketti Nut, Ricinodendron rautanenii'. Ph.D.
of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.
Keegan A.B., Kelly K.M. and van Staden J.
1989: 'Ethylene Involvement in Dormancy Release of Ricinodendron
Annals of Botany 63, 229-234
Kumar V 1978: 'Studies of Mungongo
TIRC/NCSR Research Paper No. 9, Tree
Research Center, National Council for Scientific Research,
Lee, R.B. 1973. 'Mongongo: The ethnography of a major wild
resource'. In 'Ecology of food and nutrition' Vol. 2
Gordon & Breach, N.Ireland. 1973. Pages 307-321.
Mateke, S., McGonigle T. P. and Sinclair
C.1999: 'Mycorrhizal Contribution to the Establishment of
in Southern Africa' eds. J. F. Devlin and T. Zettel. In:
Initiatives in Eastern and Southern Africa”. pp 131-148.
Muller, Hans 1988 'A trip to Africa' a personal report on
fruit and nuts in Rare Fruit Council of Australia Newsletter,
Mwamba C.K.1996. 'Status report on
and commercialization of non-timber forest products in
Tree Improvement Research Centre, National Council for
Palmer, E & Pitman, N. 'The Trees of Southern Africa'
Balkema, Cape Town. 1972.
Peters C.R.1987: 'Ricinodendron
rautanenii (Euphorbiaceae): Zambezian Wild Food Plant for
Economic Botany 41 (4)
Stanford G 1979: 'Preliminary
on germination of Mongongo seeds'.
Plant Propagation. Vol 25 (2): 2-4
Sih A. and Milton K. 1985. 'Optimal diet theory:
the !Kung eat mongongos?'
American anthropologist. Vol. 87. Pages 395-401.
Swart W.J. 1990. 'Good Living – The
Trees in South Africa, Oct. 1990-Mar.
Taylor F.W. and Kwerepe B.1995.
the domestication of some indigenous fruit trees in Botswana',
JA. Ntupanyama Y. and Chirwa P.W. eds. 'Improvement of
trees of the miombo woodlands of southern Africa'; ICRAF,
Timberlake J.R. and Calvert G.M.1993.
Root Atlas for Zimbabwe and Zambia'.
The Zimbabwe Bulletin of Forestry Research
10, Zimbabwe Forestry Commission, ISBN 0-7974-1264-6.
Vahrmeijer, J 1976. 'Ricinodendron rautanenii
Southern African Plants No. 4463,000-0010, 1976.
White, F . 'Forest flora of Northern Rhodesia'
Oxford University Press, Oxford 1962.
Mizrahi, Yosef in 'Fruit and Nut Trees--Appraising
Treasure of the Desert'
Ag-Sieve, Volume II, Number 8, 1989
On - line published by Rodale International
[accessed October 1999]
Graz, F P. 2000. 'Schinziophyton rautanenii'
Polytechnic of Namibia
Department of Agriculture
[accessed February 2001]
-Note: the above reference is a 'key world information resource'
this species, in my view.
Savannah Bel - Bush Gourmet
in the Zambezi Valley
Excellent photographs and 'hand
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biscotti from these nuts.
A natural nut very high in Vit E
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