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Bambara Groundnut, Neglected Superfood? Nutrition, Health and Socio-Economic Potential

Beverley has a degree in Science and additional certifications in nutrition and aromatherapy. She's published on and offline.

Hog Peanut Street Vendor

Hog Peanut Street Vendor

If you live in one of the 48 countries that make up sub-Saharan Africa, you may be familiar with Bambara groundnuts. If you don’t, you may mistake them for peanuts.

Numerous research studies suggest that the leguminous plant is teeming with enough nutritional, health and economic benefits to make it a superfood. Yet it remains neglected.

What nutrients, potential health and socio-economic values does Bambara groundnut have to be worthy of such a title? And what’s hindering that distinction?

Dried Bambara groundnuts

Dried Bambara groundnuts

Description of Bambara Groundnut

Bambara groundnut underground pods are oval, wrinkly and contain one or two round seeds. Seed color vary from black, brown, red, cream and white to splashes of all of those colors.

History of Bambara Groundnut

Bambara groundnut is also called Congo groundnut, earth pea, Baffin pea, hog peanut, Congo goober, nzama and njugo bean, among others. Botanically it is known as Vigna subterranea (L) Verdc. The name Bambara can be traced back to a Mali tribe of people called Bambara, but the plant itself never existed there. In 1901 a wild form was found in northern Nigeria and in northern Cameroon.

The groundnut is a member of the Fabaceae, pea or bean family of plants. According to a South African website, the seeds were originally used in traditional festivities and rituals, and as gifts.

Currently it’s cultivated across Africa, with West Africa producing about half of the world’s supply. It’s also grown in Asia, South Asia, Central and South America. It can even grow in parts of the United States.

Bambara groundnut Madagascan Meal

Bambara groundnut Madagascan Meal

Bambara Groundnut Nutritional Profile

Researchers are excited about Bambara groundnut’s nutritional content. Why? Studies indicate that the legume is loaded with eight of the nine essential amino acids, and can be considered a complete protein.

It contains leucine, isoleucine, methionine, lysine, phenylalanine, valine, threonine and tryptophan, but lacks histidine. Its methionine quantity is slated to be the highest for grain legumes.

The earth pea also has a healthy supply of unsaturated fatty acids (mostly oleic and linoleic acids), dietary fiber, minerals calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and manganese, vitamins A, C and E, the antioxidant kaempferol and other phytocompounds.

These constituents make Bambara groundnut not only a complete protein, but a complete food; perhaps even a superfood.

The Ultimate Survival Diet - The Yogic Superfood

Health Benefits of Bambara Groundnut

For a food source to be considered a superfood, it must have the potential to help us maintain excellent health. With its high-quality nutrients, Bambara groundnut seems able to do just that. Though there’s no medical evidence to support the Bambara pulse curing, treating or preventing human diseases, studies and clinical trials show it has the potential to:

. Be an effective probiotic

. Treat digestive ailments

. Treat malnutrition and kwashiorkor

. Prevent or decrease chronic ailments like cancer and heart disease

. Prevent vision issues

. Treat anemia

. Treat venereal diseases

. Stop nausea, especially in pregnant women

. Treat kwashiorkor

. Increase bone density

. Increase energy

Can Bambara Groundnut be an Effective Probiotic?

Research shows that the antioxidants and other nutrients in Bambara groundnut’s milk may have properties to support the growth of probiotics, meaning healthy gut bacteria. Scientists believe the subterranean pea has the potential to be a more effective probiotic than soybean.

Bambara Groundnut May Treat Digestive Ailments

Beside or because of its probiotic quality, Bambara groundnut may treat a number of digestive issues often associated with an imbalance of our gut’s microbiome. When the bad or unhealthy bacteria outgrows the good, beneficial bacteria, it can lead to irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, diarrhea and inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcers.

The legume’s high soluble and insoluble dietary fibers may also promote regular bowel movements.

Bambara groundnut has the highest content of soluble fiber for a leguminous crop.

"Once You See This Bambara Beans Recipe, You'll Never Cook It The Same Again" by ABOBOI RECIPE

Bambara Groundnut May Treat Malnutrition and Kwashiorkor

Bambara groundnut’s nutrients make it a complete food. Researchers believe it can provide the daily nutritional requirements of protein, dietary fiber, fats, carbohydrates, the mineral iron and more. If so, it may treat malnutrition which is a critical issue in economically-distressed countries and rural regions.

Kwashiorkor

Kwashiorkor, a form of malnutrition, results from protein deficiency. One of the common symptoms is a bloated stomach, which is often seen in children from poor countries. Kwashiorkor is a serious condition and can be fatal if left untreated. Protein-dense Bambara groundnut may help.

Bambara Groundnut May Prevent Chronic Diseases

Bambara seeds contain enough antioxidant polyphenols such as kaempferol and vitamin C to prevent chronic diseases such as colon cancer and heart disease.

Bambara Groundnut May Protect Vision

Can this Congo groundnut protect or prevent eyesight issues? Perhaps. Some African countries make a solution with pulverized seeds and water to treat cataracts.

Bambara Groundnut May Treat Anemia

The pea’s iron content may help produce red blood cells. This is a common deficiency in anemic individuals. Anemic patients tend to be weak and fatigued. Bambara groundnut may reject those symptoms as well.

Bambara Groundnut May Treat Venereal Diseases

The Igbo or Ibo people of southeastern Nigeria seem to have successfully treated venereal diseases with the underground bean.

Bambara Groundnut May Stop Nausea

This Congo groundnut may also effectively stop nausea, especially in pregnant women.

How to Prepare the Real Okpa (Bambara nut) by Mummy TruthYT

Bambara Groundnut May Increase Bone Density

Left untreated, decreasing bone density or osteopenia will eventually lead to osteoporosis. Low bone density is often a symptom of aging. As we age our bone cells lose minerals, and the loss makes our bones thinner. Brittle bones lead to serious fractures.

Medical illnesses and treatments such as chemotherapy can also weaken our skeletal frame.

Bambara groundnut has enough lysine to facilitate absorption of the mineral calcium, which help procure strong, sturdy bones.

Bambara Groundnut May Increase Energy

Both the protein and iron content may help decrease exhaustion, especially in individuals suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.

Other Potential Health Benefits of the Vigna Subterranea Plant

African and Asian countries have used the entire Vigna subterranea (l) Verdc. plant in traditional medicine to treat epilepsy, insomnia, irregular menstruation, abscess and infected wounds.

Always consult your healthcare provider before consuming any food source for health purposes.

Side Effects and Safety Concerns of Bambara Groundnut

As with any other food source, individuals may develop allergies from consumption of Bambara groundnut. Allergic symptoms can include nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing and even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

There is no known research on the legume’s interaction with drugs or effect on pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Again, always consult your healthcare provider before consuming any food source for health purposes.

#CONNECTProject: Flowering and podding of bambara groundnut

Bambara Groundnut’s Socio-Economic Benefits

Food insecurity, poor diet, climate change all threaten the sustainability of life on Earth and Earth itself. This neglected leguminous plant may have the properties to help eliminate that threat. How?

Socio Benefits of Growing Bambara Groundnut

The world grows a limited number of food crops, which is risky proposition to future distribution. As climate changes such as the rise in temperature continue, some crops currently being produced will not survive. Studies indicate that Bambara groundnut will. It’s drought resistant, and has the ability to convert atmospheric nitrogen to the form that fertilizes soil.

Cultivating Bambara groundnut may also help in the reduction of greenhouse gas emission and fossil fuel use.

"Bambara Groundnut" by CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology)

Economic Benefits of Growing Bambara Groundnut

One reason often cited for the underutilization of the Congo goober is that it is tough to cook. Notwithstanding the pros and cons, if prepared or processed industrially, it may create a better product, be more cost effective (producing far greater product), create employment and improve the economy of poorer global regions.

Additionally, food scientists are demonstrating the nutrient-sustainability of Bambara groundnut as an ingredient in all sorts of staple foods, including milk, flour, cereal, pasta and pastries.

Familiarity with Bambara Groundnut

Products Made with Bambara Groundnuts

Bottom Line

Bambara groundnut, Congo groundnut, earth pea, Baffin pea, hog peanut, Congo goober, nzama and njugo bean, Vigna subterranea (L) Verdc. all refer to the underground pea that’s nutrient-dense with amino acids that make it almost a complete protein, dietary fiber, minerals calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and manganese, vitamins A, C and E, and antioxidant phytocompounds. That seem to fit the 'superfood' title. And definitely deserves to be removed from the neglected food crop category.

With such high-quality nutrients and potential to treat chronic diseases, digestive ailments, anemia, malnutrition, bone density, exhaustion, among other diseases, possibly assisting in the relief of hunger and economic depression in poor countries, and in the protection of the environment, Bambara groundnut should be of interest to governments, scientists and farmers across the globe.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Beverley Byer

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