The African Mango is a fruit that is native to western central Africa, specifically to Congo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and parts of Angola and Uganda. For the scientifically inclined, the Latin name of this plant is Irvingia gabonensis, It is more commonly known in Africa locally by a variety of names, including African mango, wild mango, bush mango, duiker nut and bread tree; the trade name is dika nut.
Similar to Asian mangoes (which are an unrelated species of plants), the African mango is yellowish when ripe, ellipsoidal in shape, with a yellow fibrous pulp containing a fairly large seed inside. The fruit pulp is commonly eaten and can also be used to make fruit drinks, jellies and jams. The seed, which is commonly called the dika nut, can also be eaten raw or roasted; it can also be processed into flour and cooking oil is also manufactured by compressing the seeds.
The wood from the tree is very hard, not easy to cut and also heavy, so uses in construction are really limited. Other uses of the plant include manufacture of soaps and cosmetics from the seed oil, for preparing dyes and also use of pressed cakes from the seeds as cattle feed. For African farmers who grow this plant, the African mango seed is one of the most important sources of income. African mango juice is also fermented to make wines with about 8% alcohol content and these are locally popular.
Historically, the plant has been used by many African tribes for a number of medicinal purposes; these include use of the tree bark for treating diarrhea, hernia, yellow fever, dysentery and as an antidote for some poisons. The bark is also considered antibiotic as well as analgesic. Locals chew the stems of the tree to help clean teeth and the boiled bark is believed to relieve tooth pain. The powdered kernels are also believed to heal burn wounds. In recent years, there has been a lot of hype on the use of supplements extracted from the seed of the African mango, as a weight loss agent.
Extracts from the dika nut (the seed) are claimed to suppress appetite, reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar while increasing “good” HDL cholesterol. These claims need to be taken with a pinch of salt, since many so-called scientific studies around the positive benefits of the African mango have been sponsored by manufacturers of African mango supplements. Universities in Africa have also made some studies and published articles on the positive benefits of the African mango seeds.
Nevertheless, African mango is a high fiber fruit, and high fiber diets are strongly correlated with health and balanced diets. The other important consideration to take into account, is that the African mango has been consumed by Central African tribes for centuries, and there are no known harmful side effects. Which means, that while the weight loss and cholesterol reduction claims may or may not be valid, unlike some other health supplements, there are unlikely to be negative consequences of ingesting recommended quantities of supplements based on the African mango.
The effect of Irvingia gabonensis seeds on body weight and blood lipids of obese subjects in Cameroon, by Judith L Ngondi, Julius E Oben, and Samuel R Minka; Nutrition, HIV and Health Research Unit, Department of Biochemistry, P.O Box 812, Faculty of Science, University of Yaounde I, Cameroon. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1168905/)