Eating wild African fruits could have a remarkable string of health benefits, according to scientists.
For thousands of years, people have depended on the trees for food, medicines, and more, and research from the University of Johannesburg has uncovered a host of health benefits in fruits indigenous to Southern Africa.
The study, published in the journal Plants uncovers the essential amino acids in the fruits of 14 species found in that part of the continent, nutrients that are essential for healthy development in children, and to maintain health in adults.
"We can improve the nutrition quality of our diets with wild fruit," says Prof Annah Moteetee, the lead author of the study. "We can eat the fruits by themselves, or use them together with other foods."
One fruit in particular, the jacket plum, is a very good candidate to boost immune function against viruses, because it contains so much lysine - an essential amino acid for healthy immune function.
The fruit is so packed with lysine, it far exceeds the required daily intake for adults, the researchers found. It has also been used in traditional African medicine.
Another potential new superfood is the white olive - an unusual berry that packs an essential amino acid punch, and has a sweet, soft fruit that's delicious if ripened properly to ensure it is edible.
Professor Moteetee adds: "I grew up in Lesotho eating these fruits. As kids, we would collect them while they are green and unripe. Because by the time they are ripe, the competition with birds and other people is stiff. We would dig a hole in the ground, line it with big leaves, and put the fruit in there."
A third candidate for boosting your diet is the Lowveld milkberry - which turned out to be the best source of carbohydrates among the fruits studied.
All 14 of the fruits in the study were found to contain lysine, offering an immune boost - and Moteetee says further research could help produce dietary supplements or determine their marketability as new superfood.
"These fruits need to be studied further to determine their commercial potential," she explains. "Measuring protein quality will tell us how digestible and bioavailable the amino acids in these fruits are, for example."