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July 1, 2008 |  4:29 pm

Baobab trees

Move over, goji berry! Sayonara, acai! Fickle is the consumer seeking everlasting life in a bowl or smoothie glass, and we've just gotten wind of a new fad fruit -- that of the baobab tree.

The baobab has everything a superfruit should have. Unfamiliarity. A name that's hard to pronounce. The fact that it grows far away (in various countries in Africa) and that its fruit has been eaten by ancient peoples. And lord, just look at it! I mean, seriously. Something that odd-looking has got to be good for you.

Plus, it's pollinated by fruit bats.

An article in the online food trade publication reports that scientists in Britain have been studying use of baobab fruit pulp in smoothies and cereal bars. A spokesperson with PhytoTrade Africa, a natural products association of southern Africa, says plans are afoot to research its "health giving properties." The fruit is reportedly high in antioxidants, and stimulates growth of good bacteria in the gut.

Of course, it's a matter of debate whether a baobab -- or any of these superfruits -- are more healthful than a proletarian apple or pear would be -- as we explored in a March 10 article about superfruits.

(Still, let's take one more look at it, shall we?)

-- Rosie Mestel

photo credit: DreamWorks Animation SKG, from the animated feature "Madagascar"

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Comments (2)

Up until now there has been a huge trade barrier to obtaining novel foods approval in the EU, in that it costs several million euros to file a dossier, due to the extensive animal and human toxicology studies that are needed to demonstrate safety. Most rural producers cannot afford these costs and so have been unable to sell their food products in the EU. That is why we have seen so few genuinely new exotic fruits, vegetable, supplements and nutraceuticals in the past ten years in the EU.

However, Phytotrade Africa obtained novel foods approval of Baobab Fruit in July 2008 by taking a unique stance, as advised and helped by the regulatory advisory company Herbal Sciences International Ltd. They filed a dossier on behalf of Phytotrade Africa, for approval that largely contained just "history of use data" from the country of origin, plus the plant was analysed for any toxic components. Closely related species were also reviewed for any signs of toxicity and no significant problems were identified. Animal toxicology or human clinical trials were not undertaken to support the dossier, thereby cutting costs and development times enormously.

This dossier was reviewed by the Food Standards Agency in London who gave it a positive opinion in August 2007. It was then reviewed by the other 26 member states and now has been finally (in the last week) approved for the whole of the EU.

This will have important ramifications for other rural producers and growers outside of the EU. Instead of having to spend 2 -3 million Euros on toxicity studies, providing a sound “history of safe use” can be demonstrated elsewhere in the World, then the development times will be substantially reduced. Also the costs of a novel foods application will be of the order of only tens of thousands of euro’s rather than the millions it has cost in the past.

We expect that many new fruits, vegetables, supplements, nutraceuticals and functional foods will now be introduced into the EU as a result of this innovative approach to obtaining Novel foods approval in the EU.

However, full safety studies will still be needed for food products that lack "history of safe use" data.

Dr John Wilkinson
Director, Herbal Sciences Intertnational Ltd, UK

You missed out another vital aspect of a superfruit - it must be hugely expensive, compared with standard fruits like apples and oranges. The Australian Consumer Association found that all the "superfruits" they examined had far fewer antioxidants than a simple red apple, but were massively more expensive.


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