A new nut on the block – meet the Bambara groundnut
by Leanne Reeves & Clarisse Bu from WhatIF Foods on September 15, 2022
A new nut has just come to town – and we all have our eyes on it: the first question everyone has in their heads...
Bam what? What on earth is a BamNut?
Just like every new kid on the block, our BamNut is first encountered with a mix of curiosity, concern, and maybe even a little skepticism...but at WhatIF Foods, our job is to make BamNut the most popular nut in town!
BamNut is the cool nickname for Bambara groundnut,, and it is a legume originating in Western African countries such as Ghana, with the potential to be grown around the globe. The current range of WhatIF Foods products is made using this “forgotten” crop, and we are committed to introducing it globally because it is such a great ingredient that perfectly translates our REgeneration approach into practice.
Let us share all we can with you about it, so you can see why we love it so much. We hope that you start loving it as much as we do too, so it does not remain forgotten any longer!
How did our love for the BamNut begin?
In 2017, our founder and CEO Chris Langwallner attended a conference where he met with Prof Sayed Azam-Ali, CEO of Crops For The Future, literally while travelling down in the same lift and heading toward the check-out counter, and in that brief encounter, Prof Sayed slipped a brochure into Chris’s briefcase. In that brochure, as Chris later read, it described the Bambara groundnut and all its benefits. Chris was amazed and decided to dig deeper. Now, we incorporate the brilliant BamNut into all our products and are working on more new product concepts to bring the BamNut to life. With the BamNut being an underutilized crop, never having been commoditised before, it has been challenging building the value chain from the ground up, but that has enabled us to build it in our WhatIF way. BamNut is a crop that perfectly embodies our REgeneration approach; REconnecting farming communities with consumers, REstoring soil health through enhanced biodiversity, and REplenishing our bodies with its awesome nutritional profile.
Why is WhatIF Foods so interested in the BamNut?
The BamNut is a very nutritious and climate-resilient legume that helps to restore soils but is currently underutilized. BamNuts are full of fiber, protein, vitamins, and iron which is part of the reason we want to introduce them into our products; creating balanced diets for everyone. If you want to read more about the BamNuts’ nutritional value, check out our Wonder Crop Bambara Groundnut article!
Our existing global food chain has “efficiently” filtered out such wonderful crops to focus on optimizing yields and the use of only a handful of cereals and pulses. The current lack of diversity exacerbates the issues we face around soil degradation, water supply contamination, and foods supplying empty carbs.
Here’s how our BamNut gets to your kitchen!
The REconnecting stage of the BamNut cycle
It all starts with human interactions, we take the time and effort to reach out to farming communities, starting with Ghana, to tell them the story of WhatIF Foods and what inspired us to start this wonderful journey with the BamNut. What has been the most uplifting for us is how strongly our story has resonated, and this is highlighted by the overwhelming response from farming communities who want to partner with us. Having so much support has enabled us to build an entire system to bring BamNut to the world. We would like to share with you how that system operates in practice.
One of the most important steps is to first get set up and connect with the people in the farming communities. The Pond Foundation (TPF), a Swiss non-profit organisation dedicated to driving change for good, is our lead partner, starting with communities in Northern Ghana. Scott Poynton, TPF’s Founder, visited Ghana for a pre-project scoping with one of our WhatIF colleagues in December 2021. That was after our very first WhatIF trip to Ghana in 2019 and was our first opportunity to visit after the pandemic.
Scott went again in February of 2022 and has spent much time there since to get things up and running. He has identified and helped us partner with two fantastic local organisations, who have introduced us to the farming communities and helped us to establish a relationship with 25 partner communities.
These local organizations have also helped us to obtain seeds for the first crop and will be our commercial partner to buy the farmers’ Bamnuts after they’re harvested. In addition, they also work closely with our partner farmers, supporting them through seed distribution, technical advice and training and just being present in the communities to ensure the Bamnuts are growing well so that our partner farmers can secure a good yield.
Sharing the Seeds
Our local organisations secure the seeds and sort them to ensure only the best quality seeds get distributed to the farmers. The women who sort the seeds look out for broken seeds, ones that have holes or any that are too small, and separate them from the rest leaving only the best for planting.
They then take the seeds out to the communities and distribute them to farmers who have prepared their fields for planting.
When it comes to planting, the soil is prepared by weeding and ploughing the ground. Some farmers build small ridges on which to plant. The planting process begins with the men farmers making regular holes in the ground, by walking in straight lines with a wooden stick, jabbing it into the ploughed earth to make a planting hole. Then, the women farmers take the seeds and drop them into the holes, covering the holes with their foot as they move on, in a seamless motion, to the next one. Together, the men and women farmers coordinate the planting operation like a well-oiled machine.
Bamnuts are planted after all other crops because the Bamnuts don’t need as much rainfall. They do need some rain at this critical moment so once the seeds are planted, it helps to have some rainfall so that the seeds can germinate, emerge from the soil and ‘get away’. They’re such hardy little souls that once they’re away, regular rainfall helps, but they need far less than other crops. Indeed, they don’t like too much rain, preferring to grow in well-drained, drier soils.
Tending to the crop
The BamNut is a very low-maintenance crop that requires minimal water and very little care. During the development of the BamNut, weeds start to return and the farmers carry out weeding operations using hand-picking and a hoe. This gives the Bamnuts the best chance to grow. Sometimes there are pest attacks and our partners at the local organizations train the farmers in organic pest control methods using extracts from the leaves of locally grown trees. It only takes the BamNuts 3-4 months to finish growing before they are ready to be harvested.
Harvesting and Deshelling
The farmers harvest the BamNuts by digging them up from under the ground. Once that’s completed, the BamNuts are dried in the hot sun.
Then the farmers deshell them to leave only the BamNuts and a pile of shells.
In this coming season, we’ll make biochar out of the BamNut shells. This can be put back on the farmers’ lands as a fantastic, locally made, organic fertilizer.
If you want to learn more about biochar and its benefits, go check out the Put Your Foot(print) Down article.
Now that the BamNuts have been deshelled they can be sent to WhatIF Foods’ factories.
The WhatIF stage of the BamNut
The local partner organization buys the BamNut seeds from our partnering farmers in Ghana and arranges for them to be delivered to WhatIF’s factories. Once the BamNuts have been delivered to our factories they are further processed. The seeds undergo cleaning, cooking, drying, and grinding which allows them to be turned into flour. This flour is then used to make our noodles and our BamNut Milk. Once the products are created, they are sent to a warehouse before being brought to supermarkets where you, our consumers can take them home.
Stay tuned for our BamNut episode 2 - "Where does my food really come from?", which will follow how the seedlings have progressed over the last month. This comes after our first episode - Shh it's growing!
Leanne Reeves only operates with coffee in her hands, and loves a good sushi anytime. She enjoys the polar opposites of snowy winters and sunny summers. Speaking of polar, penguins are her absolute favourite animal, from their waddling ways to how they stick with each other for life.
Clarisse Bu is only either deep in thought or cackling at ridiculous jokes only she and her friends understand. At work, she makes designs and art. At play, she sings, plays the guitar, dances, boulders, meditates and makes more art. She goes hard on both.