For good health, nutritionists recommend that we eat a handful of (preferably unsalted) nuts and seeds each day. This is because nuts and seeds are good sources of protein and fibre and contain nutritious, cholesterol reducing fats which protect us against cardiovascular disease.

Everyone has heard of almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, and sesame and sunflower seeds but what about our local wild nuts?

Local wild nuts

The fruit and nuts of the Mongongo/ Manketti tree (Schinziophyton rautanenii, Sh: Mungomangoma, N: Umgoma) are secret delicacies enjoyed by locals of Western Zimbabwe.

The tree is adapted to grow on dry Kalahari sands and can withstand years of drought and large temperature variations. The Fruits develop from December to March. Most fall from the tree when still green and mature and are left on the ground, where the skin turns brown and the flesh softens developing a pleasantly aromatic and sweet flavour. Fallen fruit can be edible for up to 8 months.

Harvested Mongongo nuts

Traditional uses

Most locals boil the fruit to remove the tough indigestible outer skin, and make a sweet porridge from the flesh. Traditionally the Bushmen remove the flesh from the fresh fruit, dry it and store it for use later in the year. The fruit can also be fermented to make a potent beer or distilled for alcohol.

The fruits contain tasty kernels, resembling macadamia nuts in shape and crunchiness. These can be eaten raw or roasted. Traditionally, they are pounded, releasing the oil, and added to meat stews and vegetables.

Pounding Mungongo nuts

Nutritional value

The nutritional content of mongongo kern

els is outstanding:

  • The kernel is 57% fat by weight. Of this, about 43% are poly-unsaturated fats and about 18% mono-unsaturated fats.
  • The kernel has 26 grams of protein per 100 grams, an amount similar to peanuts and other protein-rich legumes.
  • The kernel is also a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc whith very high levels of vitamin E.

Benefitting farmers

Bio Innovation Zimbabwe (BIZ) is encouraging women in Silobela area (Kwekwe district) to harvest and sell Mungongo nuts. Thembelani Sibanda, 39, from Mpinda Community, was facing serious economic hardships, having to rely on her husband’s erratic income from firewood sales for the family’s needs. From her first batch of shelled nuts, Thembelani made USD 267 which covered school fees for her 5 children and paid for a bicycle for her youngest son who has to cycle 7km to and from school daily.

Due to changing rainfall patterns, Silobela farmers are struggling to grow enough food. With her Mungongo income Thembelani managed to buy 6 bags of grain. She also proudly notes that since she now contributes to the family’s income, her husband accepts her decisions.

New ways with Mongongo

Mongongo nuts can be eaten raw or roasted, as a snack, used in baking, added to breakfast cereal or sprinkled in salads. Check out our recipe section for some Mungongo treats.You can buy Thembelani’s Mongongo nuts from the BIZ Harare offices, Willowmead, Maasdorp weekly market (Wednesday) and Amanzi market (Friday).

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Caroline Jacquet
Caroline Jacquet, though not indigenous to Zimbabwe, considers herself naturalised. She studied Forestry and Natural Resources Management in Leuven, Belgium and arrived in Zimbabwe in 2002, to work for the World Agroforestry Centre. She’s since worked for the Zimbabwe Adding Value to Sustainable Agriculture Produce (ZAVSAP) network and KAITE and is the Project Manager at Bio-Innovation Zimbabwe (BIZ) since 2013. BIZ researches mostly indigenous plants for their commercial potential. If she had to tag her work experience and interests, she’d say: plants, conservation, sustainable use, income-generation, value-addition, small-scale producers, local foods. She’s been organising yearly traditional food festivals since 2010, first with ZAVSAP and since 2013 with the Zimbabwe Traditional and Organic Food Forum. When not busy with natural (food) products, Caroline likes to read her Kindle in the sun and walk her dogs (and husband) in the Christon Bank hills.

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