Developing countries are faced with many food-related challenges especially as it pertain to meeting up with the increasing food demand. As a result of this, several approaches have been adopted as a means of augmenting other main staple food so as to address the issue of malnutrition and poor feeding in these parts of the globe. I suppose that the basic privilege of everybody ought to be channeled towards having an easy access to proper feeding and balanced nutrition as any failure to do so can result to poor health and subsequent mortality.

Even though there are several staple foods such as rice, maize, beans etc, yet there are still great needs to supplement these food products with certain unpopular food that are equally packed with loads of essential nutrients and vitamins needed for the healthy functioning of the body. One of such unpopular but yet essential food is the African oil bean seed. African oil bean seed is a nutrient packed natural food that has remained untapped and underused thus calls for immediate attention to be widely exploited.

health benefits of african oil bean

Processed Ugba

What then is an African oil bean? The African oil bean, which is botanically known as Pentaclethra macrophylla is a tropical tree crop that belongs to the leguminoseae family and the mimosoideae sub-family. Different Nigerian tribes have different names for the African oil bean for example; it is known as ukpaka or ugba in Igbo, the Yorubas call it Apara while the Efik tribe call it Ukana.

The African oil bean tree grows approximately 6 meters in girth and 21 meters height.  The tree is low branched with low wide buttresses and an open crown that allows light to penetrate under its canopy. The bark has a reddish-brown to gray colour with irregular patches that usually flakes off. The African oil bean leaves are characterised by a big angular stalk that measures about 20-45 centimeters long. The leaves are glabrous in appearance and are equally covered with rusty hairs with 10 to 12 pairs of stout pinnae. The tree trunk oozes out reddish orange colored fluid when cut and are equally buttressed and crooked.

The most widely used part of the African oil bean tree is the seeds, which are usually enclosed in a flat pods that tend to burst once matured thereby distributing the seeds all over the area in which the tree covers. The pods measure about 35 to 45 centimeters long by 5 to 10 centimeters broad. The pods are black in colour, quite hard and woody in appearance while the glossy seeds are normally 5 to 8 in each pod and are brownish in colour. Before the African oil bean seed (ukpaka) can be consumed, it must undergo fermentation process to eradicate any unwanted toxins.

Nutritional Values of the African Oil Bean Seeds (Ukpaka)

African oil bean seeds is an excellent source of energy, protein, amino acids, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, vitamins, calcium, manganese and copper. It is also an excellent source of phytonutrients such as tannins, alkaloids, flavonoids, sterols, glycosides and saponins. Notwithstanding the high nutritional content of the African oil bean seeds, studies reveal that the fermentation process which they undergo before consumption usually eradicates most of these minerals and vitamins such as phosphorus.

Benefits of the African Oil Bean (Ukpaka)

Both the seeds, leaves, stems, barks, trunks and roots of the African oil bean tree are very useful for both medicinal, edible and commercial purposes. Studies reveal that the health benefits of African oil bean cannot be overemphasized and are thus discussed below including some other reasons we need this plant.

1. Reduction of Cancer Growth
Studies reveal that the African oil bean seeds are capable of reducing cancer growth. A comparative study carried out in Nigeria showed that cancer patients who consumed ukpaka during the research period recorded a great reduction in cancer risks unlike those that do not consume it. In a nutshell, consuming fermented African oil bean seeds as a food supplement is a great way of minimizing the risks of cancer growth and maintaining good health.

2. Dermatological Purposes
Due to the anti inflammatory properties of the African oil bean, both the bark and seeds can be used for producing local ointment for treating itches, insects bites, cuts and wounds.

3. Culinary Purposes
African oil bean seeds can be cooked, sliced and allowed to undergo fermentation process for three days before being used for preparing assorted delicacies such as ugba and okporoko, sausages, nkwobi, porridge, abacha salad, soups and vegetables yam. The processed seeds are known as ugba or ukpaka. Ashes from ukpaka pods can serve as local cooking salt while the seeds can be ground into powdered flour for making bread.

4. Treatment of Gastrointestinal Diseases
The leaves, stems and bark of the African oil bean seed can be decocted and used for treating gastrointestinal diseases such as diarrhea.

5. Commercial Purposes
The African oil bean seeds are an excellent source of oil thus can be used commercially for producing soap, candles and cooking oil. The edible seeds are enclosed in brownish shells, which can be used for decoration and for making beads, traditional dancing costumes, dresses, rosaries, hand bangles, bags and necklaces. The wood serves as firewood and can also be used for generating charcoals.

6. Lowers the Cholesterol Level
African oil bean seed is a rich source of saponins, which have been proven effective for reducing the plasma cholesterol however, it is important to note that saponins are toxic.

7. Anthelmintic Properties
The bark of the African oil bean tree exhibits anthelmintic properties thus can be used for preparing herbal medicines for treating and destroying parasitic worms.

8. Animal Feed Production
African oil bean seeds are a rich source of nutrients such as amino acids, minerals, proteins and fatty acids thus have been proven essential for use in the production of animal feeds especially when fortified.

9. Antibacterial Properties
African oil bean seeds contain saponins and alkaloids that possess antibacterial properties thus can be used for fighting Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumonia and Bacillus subtilis.

10. Antimicrobial Properties
African oil bean contains sterols which have been proven effective for tackling microbes such as Staphylococcus aureus.

11. Treatment of Leprosy
The anthelmintic bark of the African oil bean tree can be crushed and decocted for treating leprosy sores.

12. Farming Purposes
The wood and leaves can serve as mulch that can be spread around or over other growing plants to enrich or insulate the soil. The wood can serve as stake for supporting other growing plants such as yam, running beans, akidi. The trunk can serve as timber that can be used for structural work.

13. Infertility Treatment
African oil bean seeds can be used for preparing herbal medicines for treating infertility.

14. Convulsion Treatment
The pods of the African oil bean seeds can be used for treating convulsion. Smoke from burnt African oil bean leaves can also be used for treating convulsion.

15. Induction of Abortion
African oil bean seeds can be crushed and mixed with red ants for inducing abortion.

16. Treatment of Gonorrhea
The fruits, seeds, bark and leaves of the African oil bean tree have been proven effective for tackling gonorrhea.

17. Treatment of Fever
The leaves of the African oil bean tree can be decocted with bush pepper and taken for treating fever.

18. Obesity Control
African oil bean plant is a rich source of phytoestrogens thus can be taken as a nutritional and vitamin supplement for controlling overweight and obesity.

How to prepare Ugba (African Oil Bean Seed)

Preparing the African oil bean seeds before consumption requires cracking the shells to remove the seeds, which are then boiled in water between 14 to 18 hours after which the cooked seeds are sliced into thin strips, soaked in water and washed severally before being wrapped in green leaves for three to four days for fermentation process to take place. Once fermentation has taken place, the ugba can be used for preparing assorted mouthwatering dishes.

To minimize easy spoilage, processed ugba or ukpaka are usually tied up in airtight leaves, cellophane or containers. They can equally be preserved in the freezer. Freshly sliced ukpaka seeds are usually grayish-white in colour however, they tend to change to dark brown colour once fermentation has taken place.

Dangers of the African Oil Bean Seed

Some studies reveal that unfermented African oil bean seeds contain traces of poisonous alkaloid substance known as paucine. The seeds equally contain traces of growth depressant known as caffeoylputrescine plus molds, which are capable of producing mycotoxins in foods. Interestingly, these toxic substances can be neutralized after cooking and fermenting the seeds.

This post is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnostic and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.

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