The marula fruit has much more to offer than just a delicious tipple.
Worldwide, South Africa is known for two indigenous delicacies – rooibos tea and Amarula Cream.
There is, however, a story worth telling behind the delicate, sun-ripened marula fruit – best known for inebriating elephants when they eat the lightly fermented fruit off the ground – which may just surprise you.
Africa’s Botanical Treasure
The marula tree has a long history in Africa and with Africans, and dates as far back as 10 000 BC.
Not only does it feature in countless African fables, but its sweet, tangy fruit – about the size of a plum – also offers a range of uses that go beyond a tasty snack. The tree is truly one of Africa’s botanical treasures, as both the fruit and nut are very rich in minerals and vitamins.
Marula trees grow freely in the wild, and are most common in the northern part of the country, as well as neighbouring Botswana and Namibia.
A tree grows for approximately 17 years before it starts yielding fruit, and takes 34 years to become a mature tree, making crop farming it untenable.
Apart from the bark and leaves of the marula tree, which are commonly used for the treatment of a variety of ailments, the most common produce of the marula tree is the fruit.
This small, yellowish–green fruit with its waxy peel contains a layer of juicy, sweet but tangy pulp reminiscent of a pineapple or litchi, and a hard stone which protects three nail–sized oil-rich kernels.
During the harvesting season, women from local communities are commissioned to harvest the fruit. Harvesting, from early January until March, takes place in the veld.
The fruit cannot be picked from the tree because it only ripens on the ground once fallen.
The profits derived from the harvesting process supply a sustainable economic benefit to the broader community – ensuring a sustainable supply chain method, regeneration, and continuous harvesting of Marula trees in homesteads and the communal lands for future generations.
From the harvesting point, the fruit is collected by community co-operatives, from where it is carefully examined for any non-conforming substance.
Healthy fruit is transported to the processing plant, where the fruit is sorted and washed. Thereafter, the fruit is peeled and the soft, juicy flesh produced into pulp for juices, yogurts, and other edible products.
The next process is to crack the stone and extract the kernels, which are then cold–pressed under carefully controlled conditions to produce magical, pure liquid gold: marula oil.
The process is constantly controlled, measured, and monitored under the most stringent hygienic conditions to ensure it complies with all relevant legislation. All marula products destined for the various end-user markets are laboratory certified.
The production of marula fruit has a zero-waste component, as all waste material is used.
The skin and pulp of the fruit are processed to go into juices and yoghurts or alcoholic beverages, the husks are burnt at a high temperature to produce activated carbon, and the oil pressed from the kernels is sought after by the cosmetics, health, and hair industries.
Local communities have been using marula oil for generations for its beneficial ingredients for skin–care products.
Marula oil is rich in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, protecting the skin from various environmental factors.
It provides advanced hydration and has a high steric acid content, which can balance the moisture in skin.
Furthermore, marula oil is the perfect ingredient for anti-aging products, as it contains essential omega fatty acids that help reduce wrinkles.
Because marula oil is lightweight, it’s easily absorbed. This makes it an effective moisturizer for dry or aging skin. It may be beneficial for smoothing and softening fine lines, preventing stretch marks, and keeping skin hydrated and well-nourished.
Its beneficial components include:
- Amino acids L-arginine and glutamic acid, which have hydrating, anti-aging properties
- Fatty acids, including palmitic, stearic, oleic, and myristic acids, which have emollient and moisturizing benefits
- Antioxidants, such as phenolic compounds and vitamins E and C, which fight free radicals and may stave off skin damage caused by the sun and pollution.
It’s such a humble little fruit, degraded to falling to the earth and dependant on the sun’s rays to ripen and reach its fulness, yet it’s so versatile, multi-faceted and … well, fruitful.
Words by Engeline Gericke