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Similar to carob, the seeds within the pods are cleaned, cooked and fermented. They have a pungent aroma and flavor that is rich in umami and can be compared to miso.
Dawadawa trees first fruit at 5-10 years. The fruits start to ripen just before the first rains and continue over most of the season. Because the seeds are processed, the product of the tree (Dawadawa or Sumbala) is available year-round.
Dawadawa or Sumbala is made from the seeds of Parkia biglobosa, otherwise known as the African Locust Bean Tree. This is a deciduous perennial that grows to between 7 and 20 metres high. Each pod is 30-40 centimeters long and contains up to 30 seeds.
The seeds are high in lipid (29%), protein (35%), carbohydrate (16%), and are a good source of fat and calcium.
The fermented seeds are used as a flavor enhancer in soups and other dishes. It faces competition with low cost bouillon cubes containing MSG as a flavor enhancer. However, these cubes cannot compete with the nutritional value or complexity of flavor that Dawadawa offers. It is sold in balls or patties that will keep for several months. Other parts of the tree are also used for medicinal purposes, and there is a yellow pulp that surrounds the seeds that is naturally sweet, although the most prized and valued part of the tree are the seeds.
The use of fermented locust beans dates as far back as the 14th century, and was first written about by by Michael Adamson in 1757’s West Africa. While not commonly found outside of Africa, the seeds are an important part of local and regional trade within Africa. Dawadawa or Sumbala is usually prepared by women over the course of a few days. The trade and production of Dawadawa is largely controlled by women although men are known to trade in the dried, unfermented seeds as well. Other names for this food include: English (monkey cutlass tree, arbre a farine, two ball nitta-tree, African locust bean, fern leaf); French (Arbre à farine, nerre, néré, Arbre à fauve, caroubier African); Mandinka (Netto, Nété, Nér); Swahili (mnienze, mkunde); Trade name (dadawa, dawa-dawa, soumbal, soumbara)
Parkia Biglobosa can be found across Africa in a belt stretching from the Atlantic coast in Senegal to Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda, most commonly found where it is cultivated by humans for its culinary and medicinal uses.