Foods to Feed the World: Bambara Groundnut

The bambara groundnut is a legume indigenous to Africa, cultivated in semi-desert and desert climates in the sub-Saharan region. It is a legume but tastes like, and is eaten as, a nut. It is known as an important source of calories and nutrients when food is scarce. This crop is also cultivated across Southeast Asia, namely in southern Thailand, West Java and parts of Malaysia. The bambara groundnut has been gaining attention among food experts as it is an underutilised nutritious and sustainable crop which can play an important role in the diversification of our food system and in food security for the world.

Nutritional profile

Bambara groundnuts are a source of complex carbohydrates (fibre), protein, unsaturated fatty acids, and essential minerals (magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorus and potassium). Even though these minerals vary by growing conditions, they are generally higher than those found in commonly consumed legumes such as chickpeas and mung beans. Due to its macronutrient composition, this legume is considered a complete food.

Sustainability

The strength of the bambara groundnut does not only lie in its nutritional profile, but also its ability to grow in challenging environments. This crop can grow in highly acidic or otherwise poor soils, as well as in times of drought. This crop which is rich in protein requires much less water than animal protein does, which makes it a valuable food in difficult times, and more environmentally friendly.
The groundnut also has nitrogen-fixing nodules, meaning that it does not need fertilizers. Some of the nitrogen is returned to the soil, which enriches poor soil and makes it fertile again. Finally, the crop is known for resisting pests and diseases.

An underutilized crop

Bambara groundnuts can be boiled, roasted, fried or milled into a fine flour. Most recently they have also become a basis for plant-based milk. Even though this crop is very versatile, nutritious, and easy to grow under challenging circumstances, it is underutilized. This is due to several factors, one of which is that it is considered hard to cook in resource-limited communities. The groundnuts require a long cooking time, but firewood and water are not always abundant. Milling the groundnuts into flour is also not always possible.  As a result, the hard-to-cook phenomenon is inconvenient, increases the cooking cost and also poses challenges for sustainability.

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