We live on a school campus here in Rundu, Namibia where there are several large marula trees. These trees can grow to a very large size, are drought-resistent and produce an amazing amount of marula fruit. This small green fruit is a little larger than a golf ball and turns yellow when ripe. Last year after witnessing the vast majority sadly end up in the trash, I decided to try my hand at getting some juice out of the fruit which can be put over ice as a refreshing beverage, cooked into a jam or fermented into a hard cider.
The prolific marula tree. Even during a dry year like this one, the trees here produced hundreds of kilograms of fruit. This image is the view beneath a smaller tree near our flat.
Fun facts about marula:
- Each fruit contains four to eight times (the number varies by source) the amount of vitamin C as an orange.
- The trees grow up to 18 m tall.
- The seed kernels can be ground to make marula oil: a very healthy oil for cooking and cosmetics.
- Very important part of the traditional diet of the Owambo people in Namibia.
- Used to make the liqour, Amarula.
Ripened marula fruit with a greenish-yellow color.
Not really knowing where to begin, I found some very good info on this blog. As I prepared to make marula juice, I collected several large bags of marula fruit to let ripen and borrowed a food safe bucket from a friend. My basic plan was to cut the fruit around its radius (like an avocado) to peel it and then squeeze out the juice and pits into the bucket. I know what you’re thinking: that is a pretty sweet knife and cutting board for a Peace Corps Volunteer! My attitude on things like this is I like to cook and we use these items very frequently so it is worth spending a little more for quality. We brought over the knife ($10 at Marshalls) from the U.S., but it is possible to purchase a good knife in Windhoek as well. I would have been very sad using a pocketknife and a plate everyday.
Marula fruit cutting
Once I had the bucket halfway full, I would then mash the pits to extract even more juice.
30+ fruit in.
It was going slowly at first, but I soon was better at choosing the perfect yellow marulas, where the skin slid off easily and the pits and juices dropped into the bucket in a steady rhythm. It was working easily and when things are going easily in Namibia, you know you have a problem. I had noticed some fruit flies around my bags of collected fruit, but not too serious in number and there was some fruit that was obviously squished which I discarded, choosing only the most intact, nicely ripened fruit (or so I thought).
Fun times with marula fruit flies
As I was cutting and juicing fruit number 50 or 60, I realized there were some small worms near the center of the fruit. They were actually fruit fly maggots! Better than housefly maggots? But maggots nonetheless. They had maybe only been present in a few of the fruit that I dropped into the bucket, but now they were unhappily swimming around in my marula juice. Juice that represented a couple hours of labor. I fished out what I could, but that was not really a solution. My next step was to remove the pits (didn’t mash this batch!) and pour the remaining juice through a cloth to strain out inpurities (i.e. maggots). This isn’t our first run in with small insects. An upcoming post will focus on our good friends, the weevils.
Finished product: marula juice!
For my next batch I added a quality control pot, where I could verify that each marula fruit did not contain fruit fly larvae (that’s a better word for it!) before adding to my clean bucket of juice. Then I mashed the pits a bit to squeeze out more juice. It took me several hours to get about 3.5 liters of juice. The discarded seeds can be dried and cracked open to remove the kernels that can then be processed for oil.
I treated myself to a glass of marula juice after my work and it is refreshing over ice, cut with a little water. It has a fairly sour taste but very crisp. I had to travel for Peace Corps the day after I extracted the juice, so I froze the remainder and plan to begin the next phase soon: making marula cider (beer).