Wild fruit, big punch

Wild fruit, big punch

ROMA – If you are interested in what future drinks of the 21st century will taste like, look no further than the National University of Lesotho (NUL), a hub of new ideas.

That is a place where Tšoana Ntlatlapa and her supervisor, Dr Emmanuel Tanor, have just studied wild fruits of local Scolopia Mundii (qoqolosi) for application in soft drinks.
But first, listen to how the fruits do their magic.

First the berries start as green. Over time they turn yellow. And ultimately, they turn gold. In their golden state, they easily beat the delicacies of King Nebuchadnezzar of Ancient Babylon.

“We tested the nutritional content of qoqolosi fruits and we were pleased to realize that it is comparable to normal fruits,” Ntlatlapa says.
“Plus the fruits can make for an exceptionally tasty drink.”

But few people know little, if anything, about qoqolosi, scientifically named scolopia mundii. Yet it is one of the most amazing trees Lesotho is endowed with.
Scientists call it “scolopia mundii,” a Southern African tree of the Salicaceae family. Never mind what on earth that means!
While it is popularly known as qoqolosi in Lesotho, this little studied tree is also known in the region as Bergasaffran, mountain saffron, red pear, klipdoring and a South African tree number 496, according to Ntlatlapa.

Actually, it inherits its scientific name from Ludwig Leopold Mund (1791-1831), a German Prussian pharmacist and a plant collector.
Very few places in Lesotho, notably Ha-’Mamathe and Roma, still boast the presence of this tree in significant quantities.
But there is something extraordinary about this amazing tree.

It gives birth to amazingly unique fruits, wild berries, the taste of which is unrivalled.
When Dr Tanor visited the place at Ha-’Mamathe, he hardly knew that he would come back with such a tasty fruit.
Since then, he worked with Ntlatlapa as a research assistant to learn more about it.

According to the locals, the people of Ha-’Mamathe have been eating fruits from this tree, along with those from halleria lucida (mabetsa), from time immemorial.
“It is almost a ritual passed faithfully down the generations,” said one interviewee at Ha-’Mamathe who grew up eating the fruits.

In his observation, Ha-’Mamathe residents, young and old, enjoy mabetsa in December and January and Qoqolosi in April and towards May.
“It is quite a treat,” the interviewee disclosed when asked about the taste of qoqolosi fruits.  “When they are golden, you can’t have enough of them.”

But you don’t have to wait for them to turn gold.  According to the locals, “it is not uncommon to see branches full of yellow fruits on top of roofs in Ha-’Mamathe.”
For some reason, the locals think that harvesting the fruits when they are still yellow and gently placing them on roof-tops speeds up their ripening rate, in which case they turn gold and delicious quickly.

It is this provocative taste that got Ntlatlapa into action.  Like anyone who has tasted the fruits for the first time, Ntlatlapa could not help but be flabbergasted by the lost opportunity.
How come there is a tree that is found in so much of Southern African, which happens to have so tasty fruits, yet it is not yet commercialised?
Why don’t we have qoqolosi plantations in Lesotho and elsewhere?

Now, the NUL is no longer a place where people theorise about this without action.
The attitude of the present generation could not be more in line with Melanie Pinola’s attitude: “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
So the appeal of qoqolosi was already doing rounds in Ntlatlapa’s mind.

Along with her supervisor, Dr Tanor, they decided to examine the fruits.  But not for the sake of examining them (therein lies the secret, you see, gone are the days when we used to study for the sake of studying).

They analyzed the nutrition and looked into vitamin C, carbohydrates, lipids, protein, fibre, minerals and water content.
They even examined antinutrients such as alkaloids, flavonoids, oxalates, saponins, and phytates to find the fruits’ suitability as a diet.

And they came out convinced that while the fruits might as well beat the rest in taste, their nutrition was pretty much comparable to other common fruits.
They did not stop there, they actually made a refreshing drink out of the fruits.

And here is Ntlatlapa’s advice: “Let’s know more about this tree and let’s find if we can commercialize it. It is already here, growing in our land. Why not make use of it?”


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