The Bambara groundnut is also called the Congo groundnut, Congo goober, Madagascar groundnut, earth pea, baffin pea, njugo bean (S. Africa), voandzou, nzama (Malawi), indhlubu and underground bean.
This legume is grown for its underground seeds, which are formed in pods on or just below the ground, much like the similar but distinct peanut.
The pods are round, wrinkled and more than a half inch long. Each contains one or two seeds that are round, smooth and very hard when dried.
The seeds may be cream colored, brown, red, mottled or black eyed.
Interest in the plant, especially among vegetarians, may increase as its nutritional properties become more well known.
Recent studies have found it is high in protein and a complete food, providing all of the daily nutritional requirements for protein, carbohydrate and fat/oil of an adult human.
The greens can be fed to livestock.
It is under cultivation on a small scale throughout Africa, mainly grown by women for household usage.
West Africa produces about half of the world's supply. It can be grown, however, in much of the U.S. The general rule is, if you can grow tomatoes you can grow groundnut.
While it grows best in climates where peanuts do well (it likes bright sun, high temperatures, at least four months free of frost to grow best) it is highly adaptable and tolerates harsh conditions better than most crops.
It is known to grow on the fringe of the Sahara desert and in rain forest areas, and in the cool, moist highlands of Rhodesia.
In Africa it is grown on small-scale subsistence farms by women, who generally grow it on land left fallow for two years or at the least, in a rotation with other crops like maize.
Seeds come in a variety of colors, and a majority of farmers polled in Africa say color makes no difference. However, for the minority who had a preference, most said white beans mature faster, taste better and have a higher yield than red.
African farmers most often boil the crop fresh, with some salt, while still in the pods and eat it as a snack or as part of a meal in a dish called “umbhonyo.” They also eat it in soup, boil it and mash it for a dish called “siphushe,” or mix it with mealie meal or semp and groundnuts for a dish called “inshwamphulutane.”
International companies have expressed interest in canning bambara, but supply of the legume isn't yet guaranteed. Researchers at the U. of Nottingham in England have been working on the crop and have come up with the first hybrid to increase yield.
Grow similar to the peanut.
Seed is sown 5cm deep. Germination can be slow because of hard seed coat. Early cultivars mature in 50 days, others take as long as 100 days.
Plant growth habit varies from bushy to spreading; bushy types tend to mature earlier.
It is drought tolerant and does well in poor soils. In fact, too much fertilizing will only encourage leafy growth.
Harvest by uprooting and removing pods. It is often necessary to find detached pods for full yield. Bush type cultivars are easier to harvest than spreading types.
Seeds of Change; Seed Savers Exchange had seeds at one time. Not now in catalogs.
Contact members of International Bambara Network, listed at: www.genres.de/bambara/members.htm
Post-Harvest and Packing
Similar to peanut.
Pods are often sold and eaten fresh, but can also be dried.
Seeds contain 14-24 percent protein and 60 percent carbohydrate and about 6 percent oil. The protein is reported to be higher in the essential amino acid methionine than other grain legumes.