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What is a Mongongo?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A mongongo is a type of tall, spreading tree which is found in South Africa. In addition to producing a highly useful lightweight, durable wood, the mongongo tree also yields a distinctive fruit which produces a nutritionally valuable nut. These nuts are known as manketti nuts or mongongo fruits, and they are used as a major component of a balanced diet in some African communities. Products made with manketti nuts such as manketti oil are also distributed worldwide.

Known by the scientific name Schinziophyton rautanenii, the mongongo tree prefers the slightly sandy, arid soil associated with the Kalahari, a major desert in Africa. The trees produce distinctive leaves which are shaped like hands, along with delicate sprays of yellow flowers. Beginning in March, the manketti nuts start to mature on the tree, and the tree slowly loses its leaves as the weather in the Southern Hemisphere turns to fall and winter.

Mongongo fruits are roughly egg shaped, and covered in a soft, velvety husk. The husk can be removed to expose an edible red pulp which is used in preserves and porridge, leaving a thick shell behind. To access the edible nuts inside, people crack the shells or heat treat them to force them to crack. Once the nuts are removed, they can be eaten out of hand, roasted, pressed for oil, or used in an assortment of dishes. Some people prefer to let elephants do the work; manketti nuts pass whole through an elephant's digestive tract, allowing people to collect them from elephant dung. The dung and hard shells can also be burned as fuel.

Manketti nuts store very well, making them very popular in regions of South Africa with less than ideal food storage conditions. They are also high in protein, vitamin E, and calcium. Manketti oil is excellent for the skin, causing many people to use it as a moisturizing and conditioning oil, and it is also beneficial for the hair and nails. When consumed as part of a balanced diet, mangongo fruit can be an important source of nutrition.

Outside of Africa, it can be difficult to obtain manketti nuts, although their oil can be found in specialty shops and stores which carry body oils and soaps. Like other nuts, manketti nuts should ideally be stored in a cool dry place so that their oils do not go rancid, and they can be used in an wide range of foods. If whole mangongo fruit is available, the edible pulp is certainly worth a try.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By indigomoth — On Oct 02, 2011

I often wonder if foods like this will really appeal to Western tastebuds. It seems like most of the foods which can be exploited over here, have already been exploited as much as possible.

While I was over in Africa, there were very few fruits or nuts that I tried (although I never got a chance to try a mongongo, as I was in the wrong area for it) that seemed worth growing in, say, the USA. They either had too many seeds, or a bad aftertaste or whatever. Anything that tasted wonderful, like mangoes, were already being shipped or grown there.

On the other hand, I know there are things like fejoas which are delicious and still difficult to find in the States so maybe I just didn't try the right kinds of fruit!

By lluviaporos — On Oct 01, 2011

This makes me think of that very expensive coffee that is made from beans that pass through the digestive tract of, I think, a civet.

I was talking about it with a friend of mine and he was very against the idea of drinking a coffee like that, saying that once something had been in dung, there was no way he would touch it.

But, after I thought about it a bit, I realized that a lot of things we eat were grown in dung. After all, that's what fertilizer is, so if you want to get picky about it, even bread and things like that were originally grown from dung.

So, yeah, if the nuts were well washed off and shelled, I don't see any problem with eating them after they'd passed through an elephant! I actually think that would be kind of cool.

By aLFredo — On Oct 01, 2011

Mongongo fruit/nuts sound good. I love both fruit and nuts, so this seems right up my alley! This seems so healthy too, and I am all about nutritious foods!

Too bad I don't live in Africa, because there is a small chance I will find it here in the United States. I may look for the mongongo oil though, as it seems to have a lot of cosmetic benefits, and it seems like it can easily be found in most health food stores.

If I ever have the opportunity of going to Africa, I am going to look for these mongongo nuts. I would prefer to prepare them by cracking the shell myself, rather than dig it out of elephant dung! I understand that the dung is useful to burn to make fuel, but I would not need fuel, so I would rather find the mongongo tree and getting the mongongo fruit/nut off of the tree instead.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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