Baby Boabs: Adansonia gregorii
I am told that I get excited about strange things. There were raised eyebrows at work recently when I opened a package of small brown tubers and a baggie of green leaves and began to squeal about not being able to wait until I could get them home and into the kitchen.
The strange but legal items heralded from the Kimberley region in the north of Western Australia and were the tubers and leaves of baby boab trees. Grown from seed, they are harvested from March to October after a growing season of 10 to 16 weeks.
The swollen trunk of the boab tree has been used as a water source in its harsh desert environment and as bush medicine and a source of fibre and shelter as well as a bush medicine. It is only in a very small area around Kununurra that the boab was used as a food resource by local Aboriginals.
In 1999 the Department of Agriculture began research into the possibilities of boab becoming a viable food crop. By 2001 the first tubers were offered for sale at the Kununurra markets by Peter Fox and Denise Hales.
The long brown tubers resemble skinny white sweet potatoes and need their fibrous outer layer peeling before eating. Eaten raw, the crisp, crunchy texture is a lot like water chestnut. When cooked its taste reminds me of cooked baby turnip. Nutritionally boab roots are high in iron and potassium and have a high level of protein compared to other vegetables. The fleshy five-fingered leaves are high in Vitamins A and C and have a sweet nutty taste similar to fresh raw peas. Growing in a desert where lettuce shipped from the city can sell for $10 and more, they are a welcome addition to salads.
I found baby boab well suited to Asian style foods ginger, soy, sesame, black cumin, fresh coriander and chilli which its cool crunchiness contrasts and enhances. Try in stir fries, with Gado Gado or in salads.
Denise Hales and other Kimberley chefs have experimented with baby boab and produced recipes that range from Laksa to Orange Cake. Boabs in the Kimberley now also sell a range of relish, chutney, pickles, jams and marmalade that combine baby boab rosella, mangoes, chillies and other local produce as well as supplying trees.
Baby boabs are available by mail and should be available in selected Perth stores soon. If you cannot access any, try substituting water chestnuts in salad recipes or baby turnip or white radish in recipes that require cooking.
This bush tucker is sure to grow in popularity – I hope it gets you excited too!