Marula Tree

ABOUT THE MARULA

The exotic marula fruit is found only on the sub-Saharan plains of Africa, where it grows in the wild for just a few weeks of the year. Not just totally delicious, it’s also rich in vitamin C, potassium,
calcium and magnesium, as well as protein.

Archaeological evidence of marula fruit can apparently be dated back as far as 10 000 BC with traces of marula kernels found in the ancient Pomongwe Cave of Zimbabwe.

Today marula trees grow abundantly in the wild and are found in many parts of South Africa, including the famous game reserve, Kruger National Park. They are also plentiful in Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

The trees support an extensive ecosystem. Their cooling canopies provide habitats for a range of plants and grasses, while the fruit is eaten by elephants, rhino, warthog, kudu, baboons, vervet monkeys, zebra, porcupine and even millipedes. Their leaves are also eaten by a range of browsers, including domestic cattle.

Marula Fruit, Marula Tree, Elephant

Beautiful and leafy yet drought-resistant, marula trees grow from 9 metres to 18 metres tall and can bear 500 kg or more of fruit per year. Usually the male and female flowers that appear in spring are borne on separate trees, although they can sometimes appear on the same plant. The male flowers produce the pollen, while the female trees will eventually produce the juicy yellow-skinned marula fruits in the height of summer.

A study undertaken by the UK Department of International Development and the Natural Environment Research Council observed that the large-scale harvesting of the fruit poses no environmental risk. Fortunately, the trees are also protected under South African law, with strict policies in place to ensure environmentally-friendly treatment and eco- as well as socially-sustainable harvesting. This means that each bottle of Amarula carries a proud heritage of sustainable environmental and community care.

Beautiful and leafy yet drought-resistant, marula trees grow from 9 metres to 18 metres tall and can bear 500 kg or more of fruit per year. Usually the male and female flowers that appear in spring are borne on separate trees, although they can sometimes appear on the same plant. The male flowers produce the pollen, while the female trees will eventually produce the juicy yellow-skinned marula fruits in the height of summer.

A study undertaken by the UK Department of International Development and the Natural Environment Research Council observed that the large-scale harvesting of the fruit poses no environmental risk. Fortunately, the trees are also protected under South African law, with strict policies in place to ensure environmentally-friendly treatment and eco- as well as socially-sustainable harvesting. This means that each bottle of Amarula carries a proud heritage of sustainable environmental and community care.

"Today marula trees grow abundantly in the wild..."
Nutritious fruit

The light brown, smooth, oval shaped seed inside each marula fruit protects its magical kernels.

Thick-walled, the seed or nut is extremely tough to crack. The extraction of the kernels inside involves placing the nut on a stone slab and hitting it with another hard stone. It’s a laborious task that requires a lot of skill. It can take up to 24 working hours to fill an 800 gram tin with the kernels.

Dried seeds are often strung together to make necklaces, offered as a token of love.

Marula, the name

Commonly known as the marula tree, it also goes by several other names too.
English: jelly plum, cat thorn, morula, cider tree, marula, maroola nut/plum
Afrikaans: maroela
Portuguese (Mozambique): canhoeiro
Hausa: dania
Swahili: mng'ongo
Lovedu: marula
Pedi: lerula, marula

 

MAKING OF THE LEGEND

The Marula Tree (Sclerocarya birrea), sometimes called the Elephant Tree, is an African botanical treasure steeped in culture, romance and legend. It grows only in sub-equatorial Africa and can be found nowhere else.

At the height of the African summer, from mid-January to mid-March, a sweet and enticingly tropical fragrance fills the air of the sub-Saharan plains. It’s not just humans who relish the delicious wafts of sun-ripened fruit but many of the animals of the veld: elephants, rhino, warthog, kudu, baboons, vervet monkeys, zebra and porcupine. For that is when the marula fruits, heavy with goodness and flavour, drop to the ground and nature’s bounty is there for all to share.

The size of small plums but oval in shape, they are like no other fruit. Although they resemble loquats, their skins are a lighter shade of golden-yellow. Their white flesh is more like a litchi in texture but not as dense. Succulent, with a citrus tang and a creamy, nutty taste, they are loved by everyone who knows them.

Amarula has captured the heart of the marula’s uniquely exotic aromas and flavours by first fermenting the hand-harvested fruit to create a wine that is double-distilled into a clear spirit, aged in oak for 24 months. Wood spice characters of vanilla and toast are naturally imparted. Another important ingredient is fresh dairy cream. It gives Amarula its rich and velvety smooth consistency.

Available in more than 100 countries across the world, Amarula is known as the Spirit of Africa.

Harvesting

Harvesting of the deliciously fragrant and exotic fruit, ripened under the African sun, happens at the height of the African summer, from mid-January to mid-March.

Many of the wild-growing trees, indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa, are found in the sub-tropical region of Phalaborwa in Limpopo Province.

When the fruit falls to the ground, heavy with flavour and goodness, it is collected by the women of the local rural communities before being delivered to the Amarula production plant in Phalaborwa.

From marula to Amarula

Near Phalabrowa in Limpopo Province, the trees grow in the wild, the way nature intended. No irrigation is used and the skies are relied upon to release their seasonal rains. When the sun is ready, it lets the fruit ripen to a sweetly delicious and exotic concentration of flavour.

The succulent summer fruit is a critical ingredient in Amarula and gives it its unique taste. It is gathered by local rural communities and taken to a series of collection points. Harvesters are paid for every kilogram they deliver and the proceeds of their picking have become a valued source of income for their families.

At Amarula’s production centre, each fruit is individually checked to ensure it is fully ripened and free of blemishes before the flesh is crushed with the skins. In a de-stoning tank, rotating blades separate the flesh from the hard seeds or nuts. The fruit pulp is pumped into cooling tanks, where it is kept at a consistent temperature below 6 degrees C, to prevent uncontrolled fermentation.

The marula pulp is then transported to the cellars in Stellenbosch where it is fermented under conditions similar to wine making. After fermentation, the marula wine is distilled twice, first in column stills and then in copper pot stills, to create a young marula distillate. It is essential that the fresh marula wine is distilled as quickly as possible to retain its fresh fruity flavours. During the second distillation the marula flavours are further concentrated. To enrich and deepen its flavours, the spirit is aged slowly in wood, spending two years in small oak barrels, where wood spice characters of vanilla and toast are naturally imparted. Another important ingredient is fresh dairy cream. It gives Amarula its rich and velvety smooth consistency.

"When the sun is ready, it lets the fruit ripen to a sweetly delicious and exotic concentration of flavour."

The sustenance of kings and communities

The appeal of the marula fruit is only part of the story. A favourite amongst elephants, it is also revered as the food of kings amongst many sub-Saharan peoples. Many communities make a marula brew to present as an offering to the spirits of the ancestors or to honour their leaders.

Majestic marriage trees

The trees themselves stand tall and crowned in leaves, providing generous shade. They are an important part of African community life and folklore. Marula trees often serve as meeting places for village gatherings and the spiritual centre for ritual activity. Amongst some tribes they are known as ‘marriage’ trees and even today nuptials are conducted under their umbrella-shaped branches.

Marula’s medical powers

The trees are also credited with medicinal powers and their bark, which contains antihistamines, is put to a variety of uses, from treating stomach ailments to remedies for rheumatism and insect bites. Some communities even use the leaves as an antidote for skin infections, spider bites, burns and heartburn. An infusion from the fruit is also used to bathe tick-infested livestock.

Rich in oil, antioxidants and more

The oil-rich kernels are an essential source of nutrition and have anti-oxidant and moisturising properties. Often the oil is mixed with other foodstuffs, while the kernels are eaten whole or ground into porridge with the leaves sometimes used as a relish.

amarula

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