African mango has received a great deal of attention recently. It goes by many names: wild mango, dika, and bush mango. It’s not the true mango that we’re familiar with on grocery store shelves. African mango (Irvingia gabonensis) is a different species native to western and west-central Africa. It’s similar to a true mango in that it’s a yellow stone fruit with juicy flesh. The pale flesh has a spicy, earthy taste, and surrounds a single seed at the center of the fruit. The seed contains many kernels that are rich in fat, fiber, and protein.
African mango trees prefer lowland, tropical areas, and can grow up to 100 feet tall. A mature tree can produce a thousand fruit a year. African mango fruit is directly harvested from the wild in some areas. In others, the trees are cultivated in farms that often also produce cocoa and coffee. The fruit is harvested in the rainy season, from July to September. Owing to the height of the trees, the fruit is rarely picked. Harvesters generally pick the fruit up from the ground when it falls.
In areas in which African mango grows, such as Cameroon, the flesh of the fruit is consumed immediately after harvesting. The flesh can also be used to make wine, juice, jelly, and even a black dye for textiles.
Fruits may be set aside to decompose a bit to allow for easier access to the seeds and kernels. The seeds are split with a knife to access the kernels. The kernels are often preserved by drying and roasting to prevent fungal contamination, and these kernels can be consumed. They are often ground into a condiment paste. The paste can also be shaped into a cake, which is known as “dika bread.” When dried, the cake can be ground into flour. The kernels can also be pressed to produce an oil that can be used in cooking or soapmaking.
In many areas in Cameroon, the largest exporter of African mangoes, half of the seeds of the mango fruit are traded, and half are kept to consume locally. Of the African mango products that are sold, about twenty percent is fresh fruit consumed nearby. A third are molded products, such as the dika bread cake. A small percentage is sold as flour, while the majority, around forty percent, is sold as kernels.
The African mango tree is a valuable source of building materials for buildings, ships, and the railroad industry. The fine-grained wood is pest-resistant and durable, much more so than wood from the wood of true mango trees.
In traditional African medicine, African mango has been used to treat many ailments, such as: diabetes, dysentery, uncontrolled bleeding and pain, and liver disorders. In the last several years, African mango seeds have become popular as a weight loss treatment, though there have been very few clinical studies that have thoroughly examined African mango’s effect on weight, metabolism, diabetes, or cholesterol. Further study is needed to determine the efficacy of the extracts of African mango seeds, kernels, bark, and other components of the plant as a treatment for medical conditions.