Baobab fruit powder is about to make the jump from superfood smoothie staple to gluten- and grain-free baking ingredient, according to London-based market research firm, Mintel.

Unlike other fruits, the fruit from the baobab tree – also known as the monkey-bread or upside-down tree – is not eaten whole and is usually dried into a powder to be used in recipe formulations. This makes it a relatively easy addition to food or drink products in terms of handling and storage.

“Baobab has quite a sour flavour profile, with citrus, tangy sherbet-like notes,” said global food science analyst Emma Schofield. “Alone, it may be too sour for most people’s taste buds, but it can be combined with other ingredients to provide a flavour profile that appeals to consumers.”

Juice – but not just

Product development is starting from a small base with much of the product innovation coming from European countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Finland, as well as the United States.

Mintel data shows that, within the beverage category, juice accounted for just 63% of drinks using baobab in 2016, while 23% were meal replacement shakes and powdered smoothies. Sports and energy drinks made up 13% of launches.

It’s not just small start-ups that are incorporating the fruit into their products. Innocent Smoothies, owned by beverage behemoth Coca-Cola, launched its Gorgeous Green Smoothie which is a mixture of apple, kale and baobab.

But Schofield sees potential beyond just beverages. She said: “It could also prove popular as an alternative to wheat flour in grain- and gluten-free baking, to create gluten- and grain-free cookies, pancakes and muffins, or as an ingredient in the wave of trendy protein-balls and ‘clean-eating’ cereal bars that have hit the market lately. Breakfast cereals could be given a health boost with baobab.”

Sourcing stories

Both Matahi, a French juice company, and Aduna, a United Kingdom based food company, have a very ‘hands-on’ story to tell in terms of discovering and sourcing the fruit.

Matahi co-founder Raphaël Girardin, an agronomy engineer by education, went to Benin to research the African fruit trees and start a small co-operative run by women in local communities to buy the actual fruit. Meanwhile Aduna co-founder Andrew Hunt discovered the fruit when in Ghana and decided to use it as the basis for a model of sustainable demand, supply and responsible sourcing. Hunt also rejects the ‘sympathy vote marketing strategies’ so typical to African ingredient sourcing.

This is what Mintel analyst Alex Beckett called ‘an attractive, provenance-heavy backstory’ that will serve to strengthen baobab’s appeal with consumers.

The fruit’s potential to stimulate sustainable development has also attracted the attention of the German government. Baofood is a project financially supported by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), which aims to promote the use, processing and market development of baobab as a means of improving food security and rural livelihoods in Kenya and Sudan. Baofood attended the Biofach organic trade fair in Berlin this year to raise the profile of the fruit.

Baobab was granted novel food approval for the European Union market in 2008. – Food Navigator