The Traditional Uses and Benefits of Bambara Bean

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The Bambara bean (also known by its more common names, like Bambara groundnut, Earth pea, and hog peanut) is a legume indigenous to West Africa and belongs to the family Fabaceae. It is a soil-cover crop that is mainly cultivated in the semi-arid sub-Saharan Africa region. In addition to providing a nutritional source of food for people, it is also known for its ability to regulate the levels of nitrogen in the atmosphere with the help of bacteria. 

The Bambara bean is the third most commonly used legume on the African continent. Because most of the product activities – including land preparation activities, planting, weeding, pest control, harvesting, drying activities, threshing, and winnowing – are undertaken by women, it is often termed as the “women’s crop.” Due to its flexible seasonal availability, this crop has become quite efficient in promoting nourishment, food security, pastoral improvement, and supporting sustainable land uses. 

Plant Description

Bambara plants can grow to a height of 11 to 14 inches when subjected to optimal irrigation techniques as well as a well-developed taproot system. Common nitrogen-trapping bacteria such as Rhizobium, Cholestridium, and Azotobacter can be found in lobed nodules around the roots, which seem to appear like rounded globes when observed under a microscope.

Bambara beans are a peanut-sized, hard, and round type of bean that ripens below the ground. The beans come in various colors, such as dark brown, black, red, white, cream, and even a combination of these colors. The taste is quite peculiar, but many describe it as having a nutty, almost earthy flavor palette.

The Parts of the Bambara Plant

The Bambara plant is a creeping, annual, herbaceous legume with compound leaves comprising trifoliate leaves. The stems can be hairy or hairless, depending on the surrounding conditions. Its leaves, on the other hand, can be round, lanceolate, or elliptical, ranging anywhere between 3 to 5 centimeters (up to nearly 2 inches) long. 

Flowering is the most critical stage in the life cycle of Bambara beans. A land where cultivation techniques lack modern facilities, the Bambara plant has been able to grow to the point of flowering. Post pollination and fertilization, light yellow flowers crop up all over the branches of the plant, which are drawn below the soil through a tunnel. 

The fruits of the Bambara bean are usually 2 or 3-seeded pods, and 1.5 to 3 centimeters (or just over an inch) long. When young, the Bambara pods are light greenish in color. The pods eventually turn yellow, followed by purple, as it matures.

When dry, the pods shrivel down and are not more than half an inch long. The weight of a hundred Bambara beans comes between 280g and 300g (approximately ⅔ of a pound) approximately.

The Health Benefits of Bambara Bean

Bambara nuts are rich in essential amino acids, which play a crucial role in regulating our blood glucose levels. A 2008 study showed that the method of preparation can also impact the nutritional value of Bambara beans. For instance, the blood glucose response was much better in people who ate Bambara nut dumplings than Moimoi (a traditional Bambara bean cake).

It can also help safeguard against malnutrition during pregnancy. The Bambara groundnut provides just over 400 kilocalories of energy per 100 gram (approximately a 3.5 ounce) serving. In addition, it contains a high essential amino acid profile, making it a superfood for pregnant mothers.

They are a rich source of protein and also happen to provide more methionine (essential amino acid) per 100g of nuts than any other grain legumes. The high protein content in these beans goes a long way to protect babies against protein deficiency and complications like anemia during pregnancy. Some studies have also found that the nut can help with insomnia, chronic fatigue, and heavy or prolonged menstruation. 

For those who struggle with alcohol abuse, the Bambara beans can also be highly beneficial. The antioxidant properties, paired with high dietary fiber, make Bambara beans a key ingredient in some alcohol detox recipes. It also promotes digestive regularity, which is why many people include Bambara nuts in their diet while undergoing detox. However, it’s not a replacement for professional help, and reaching out to alcohol and drug rehab hotlines can provide both the necessary support and much-needed resources for recovery. 

Bambara nuts are also great for promoting immune health. They are rich in antioxidants like Vitamin C and iron, which reduce the inherent chances of heart diseases. Antioxidants play a vital role in protecting our body against harmful toxins, which is how they boost our immune system. 

Bambara nuts contain a high concentration of calcium and phosphorus, which are essential for optimal bone growth in both adults and children. It also contains an amino acid called lysine, which helps to absorb more calcium and other essential nutrients into the bone. Many athletes include Bambara nuts in their protein-rich diet as a result of these properties. 

Finally, Bambara beans can help with cancer prevention. Bambara nuts have an extremely high concentration of soluble fiber, antioxidants, and essential amino acids compared to other grain legumes. All of the above nutrients have been known to curb the chances of colon cancer and many cardiovascular diseases. 

Culinary Uses of Bambara Bean

Due to its high protein content, Bambara seeds have become a staple ingredient in many foods and beverages around parts of Africa. The Bambara plant is often cultivated in soil-cover situations, which helps nutrient-rich soil from eroding away due to natural causes. During the rainy season, in many parts of central Nigeria, Bambara beans are a delicacy amongst the locals who cook the beans with their shells still on them. 

Furthermore, in some parts of Southeastern Nigeria (particularly in Enugu) people use Bambara seeds to make “okpa”, a delicious pudding that is commonly consumed as breakfast. The seeds are first ground into a fine powder, mixed with palm oil, water, and pumpkin leaves then wrapped with banana leaves before being boiled. 

Key Facts About the Bambara Bean

The Bambara groundnut has been termed a complete food as a result of its high nutrient concentration. The beans consist of 64.4% carbohydrate, 23.6% protein, 6.5% fat, and 5.5% fiber, and are rich in valuable amino acids including isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and valine. As a year-round growing crop that favors warm temperatures, Bambara has established itself in the cultivation pattern quite firmly.

The yield is greatly influenced by the sowing date, so a lot of farmers aim for early November as it tends to provide the best results. The flowers sprout from 30 to 55 days after sowing, and the pods usually take around 30 days to mature. And finally, the nutritional value of Bambara groundnut is somewhat closer to soybeans. No doubt, this plant is an essential part of many healthy diets, and it can easily be integrated into Western diets for a nutrient boost.

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