If a stranger calls you a “peanut” in America, I suppose you should prepare to physically defend yourself. As much as we all love peanut butter, the peanut is associated with weakness, insignificance, and the phrase “working for peanuts” (i.e. nothing). Now, the Bambara Ground Nut has an entirely different reputation.
Let’s imagine Vigna subterranea is the peanut’s insane third cousin. Where the Peanut needs the kind of coddling and protection only a devoted mother can provide, the Bambara Groundnut is born to kick ass… relatively speaking. It is covered in face tattoos. Its hands are raw-hide wrecking balls.
The Bambara Groundnut is known to survive a drought better than any other legume in Africa ; it thrives in poor soil, high heat, salt-stress, and punishingly arid conditions . It presents its handsome yellow flowers on the ground to be pollinated by ants before punching its pregnant pods into the burning soil to produce globular subterranean beans. In short, the Nyimo bean live-cycle is pretty amazing. It survives in conditions that would invariably destroy the peanut .
Almost every recent academic publication on the Bambara Groundnut includes the word, underutilized, to describe this groundnut. Perhaps — with global climate change and desertification becoming increasingly serious existential threats — it is time we take a more serious look.
Get ready for a crazy trip, Traveler. Today we ride to Zimbabwe to meet with a Yale and Cambridge educated ethnobotanist who has spent 20 years investigating African plants: Gus Le Breton (The African Plant Hunter). For our own safety, we are under strict contract to keep the windows rolled down for this one.
Welcome to the nitty-gritty and tooty-booty world of Vigna subterranea:
The Bambara Groundnut.