The African black velvet tamarind (known in Ghana as yooyi) is quite popular among the countries of the West African sub-region, like Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau. Sweet and just a little sour below what is unbearable, the tropical grape-sized fruit is a velvet-textured black shell housing an edible pulp containing a small seed.
But did you know? It seems that yooyi has quite a decent nutritional profile even though there has not been so much research into its nutritional qualities.
Black velvet tamarind has a high percentage of carbohydrate as you’d expect, and protein in smaller quantities. If you know fruits well, few of them contain protein so that’s a plus.
It also has a good amount of dietary fibre which is known for aiding digestion and preventing constipation.
Small quantities of the minerals magnesium, sodium, iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin A and tartaric acid can be found in the fruit. Each of these minerals performs some important functions. Iron for instance is crucial for the production of red blood cells while potassium helps in regulating heart rate and blood pressure. Tartaric acid has antioxidant properties and protects the body from harmful free radicals which come from oxygen as by-products of respiration. Free radicals are known for damaging body cells and contributing to the process of aging.
The black velvet tamarind is also rich in ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Research has found that vitamin C constitutes about 35% of the orange edible pulp of yooyi. Even the seed which is not edible also contains some (about 6%). Vitamin C helps the body with tissue repair and boosts the immune system. The vitamin is also good for fighting the disease scurvy (which is caused by a deficiency of the vitamin) and also boosting the immune system.
Yooyi could also be good for people suffering from diabetes. It is believed that the fruit enhances the sensitivity of the hormone insulin which results in diabetes when it is lacking.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of extensive published research on the fruit, some of the health properties attributed to it have not been properly validated. Many claims on the fruit abound and it is even rumoured that extracts from the leaf can inhibit the growth of the malaria-causing parasite plasmodium. Is that true? Well we don’t know.
What is true is that the leaf of this plant has a nice taste when you’re chewing it. Maybe next time you’re suffering from malaria, you could wash some and give it a try.