Mongongo oil

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Mongongo oil is a fairly light oil pressed from the mongongo nuts. It is a relatively less known nut which drops down from the manketti tree, naturally found in the Kalahari desert of southern Africa. The nut oil is excellent for maintenance of curly hair types, besides providing excellent nutrition to the skin in the form on linoleic acid which as we shall see, is an essential fat for our body. It is also capable to provide some level of natural sun protection factor (SPF) when applied topically.  

Source

Mongongo nuts have been eaten by the San Bushmen tribes of the Kalahari for millenia now (7000 years ago approximately). This has been corroborated by archaeological digs. The tree from which it is obtained, called the manketti tree (Schinziophyton rautanenii) is a huge, wide spreading, hardy and long living tree which has adapted itself to survive in the severely water scarced region where temperatures fluctuate from blistering hot to freezing cold on a daily basis. To achieve heights of up to 25 m in deserts is no mean feat. The manketti tree is thus, a wonder of mother nature.  

Mongongo seedling
Mongongo seedling (Image:Wikipedia)

Its fruits taste somewhat like dates. Experts in studying tribal lifestyles believe that the Bushmen tribes of Kalahari have not taken to settled agriculture because they could get stable nutrition from the plentiful manketti trees around.  

Inside the fruits is a hard shell, which is roasted to reveal the nuts inside. These nuts are then either cold pressed, or extracted via chemical solvents to produce mongongo nut oil, which is also called as manketti oil. 

Color and Aroma

It has a yellowish overall color with green tones with a mild nutty aroma.  

Properties

Most of its therapeutic benefits are based on the nutrients that it contains and these it delivers to us via the skin.  

  • Nutrient – first and foremost it is a nutritive oil which can easily cure deficiency of linoleic acid in the body, even when applied on the skin.  
  • Anti-inflammatory – Linoleic acid in mongongo oil bestows upon it powerful anti-inflammatory activity. However, it is important to note that oils rich in LA can have pro-inflammatory effect on certain people. Additional anti-inflammatory effect is provided by the ample Vitamin E. 
  • Antioxidant – Significant amount of Vitamin E coupled with some phytonutrients delivers free radical fighting power.  
  • Moisturizer – It aids the skin in healing its natural barrier which is an external layer that prevents water from our skin from evaporating out, leaving it dry and parched.  

Health Benefits and Uses

Mongongo oil for Curly Hair 

It is known to minimize frizziness, dryness and flakes that are often caused due to excess usage of hair curling products or treatments. In the initial days after a hair curling treatment, hair may look exactly the way you wanted. But over time, the curls or even mild waves may give way to stray hair and frizziness. For this, pour about 3-4 drops of pure mongongo nut oil into the palm and rub it into the hair. Since it is light, this much is sufficient to take care of the straying. This helps curls to last longer.  

As a general hair conditioner 

Well, there is nothing general about it. Mongongo nut oil is an exquisite oil, that makes it very pricey. It is loaded with Vitamin E which is excellent for detangling the hair, preventing it from sun damage (which leaves the hair strands look almost lifeless) and also revitalizes the hair by inserting its antioxidant power to enable hair cells to fight off the ever-pervasive free radicals in our day to day environment. 

As a Lip Balm 

One can directly apply a few drops of mongongo nut oil into the lips to heal cracking caused by dry winters or due to nutritional deficiencies. Both Vitamin E and Linoleic acid have a dominant role to play in repairing skin that has been affected by severe dryness.   Moreover, it is light and does not look too glossy. It also tastes good if it is cold pressed.  

Nutritional and Medicinal Information

Manketti oil contains about 64% polyunsaturated fats (PUFA). Broad distribution of saturated and unsaturated fats is as follows.  

100 gm of mechanically extracted (cold pressed) mongongo nut oil contains about  

  • 64 gm PUFAs 
  • 17 gm MUFAs 
  • 16 gm saturated fats.  

Detailed distribution of fatty acids is as follows.  

Fatty acid  Carbon notation  Composition 
Linoleic acid  C 18:2  37.83 
Oleic acid  C 18:1  17.48 
 α-eleostearic acid  C 18:3  26.11 
Palmitic acid  C 16:0  9.40 
Stearic acid  C 18:0  6.68 

Source: 1 

Linoleic acid is extremely important for the health of our skin. It is the most abundant fat in our epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin. There, it serves an important purpose by allowing the skin to create a fatty layer in conjunction with proteins like the various forms of keratin. This oily layer seals moisture held by our skin cells. This function is extremely important to keep our body hydrated. When we think of it, skin is the largest organ of our body. If this barrier were not there, not only would our skin turn dry and dull, even our body would be gasping for water! 

Linoleic acid also plays an important role in the synthesis of eicosanoids which are signaling compound in the body. Most of them are released to signal the body to reduce inflammation but some of them may also aggravate inflammation. That depends on the overall lipid profile of the skin cells.  

Linoleic acid gets readily absorbed when it is applied topically on the skin. There, within the skin, it forms the backbone of the barrier of our skin by integrating itself into ceramides. Many of the modern cosmetic products developed after dermatological research too focus upon ceramides. [2] 

Thus, mongongo nut oil helps in locking moisture within the skin, keeping the skin cells strong and nourished from within, preventing dermatitis and scaling of the skin. There is also some link between deficiency of essential fatty acids and hair loss. In that case, applying Linoleic acid rich oils onto the scalp may help in preventing malabsorption linked hair loss.  

α-eleostearic acid is the characteristic fat found in mongongo nut oil. We can easily list oils that are quite rich in LA, but only a handful of oils are rich in α-eleostearic acid. It possesses efficacy in suppressing tumors and preventing diabetes. [3] Its most powerful effect is its ability to absorb UV radiation. This it does at a wavelength of light measuring 296 nm. This lies smack in the middle of the spectrum of UV-B radiation, which is much more dangerous than UV-A radiation as it causes changes to our DNA, which leads to tumors and cancers, more commonly, skin cancer. Applying mongongo oil on the face or skin drapes a very thin layer across our skin which absorbs UV-B radiation, preventing our own skin cells from getting scorched by radiation. This is similar to a sunscreen effect which goes to show the adaptability of nature. A tree that stands resolute in the dry desert naturally provides sun protection. Otherwise, we have to use sunscreen and sunblocks that often contain artificial chemicals broken down to nanometer level size for increased efficacy. However, it would be better if research could quantify manketti oil’s sun protection in terms of the commonly known unit, the SPF. 

Mongongo nuts are incredibly rich in Vitamin E. 100 gm of ripe nuts contain about 560 mg of vitamin E. Since members of the San Bushmen tribe consume these nuts as staple diet, they are obtaining the benefits of a diet rich in vitamin E. Since vitamin E is fat soluble, it is also found in the expelled oil, both cold pressed or chemically extracted. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant for the skin. It protects our skin cells from free radicals that are created due to exposure to heavy ultraviolet radiation. Thus, it prevents our skin from premature ageing caused by the skin. Topically applying oils rich in vitamin E, like mongongo nut oil or wheat germ oil acts like a moderate sunscreen. However, vitamin E is easily damaged by the sun. It stays effective longer if our diet is rich in Vitamin C. [4] In order to obtain maximum benefit from using mongongo oil, one should eat lots of citrus fruits like lemons, lime, oranges and tangerines. 

In conclusion, mongongo nut oil offers the benefits of nutrition to the skin, protecting it from the harsh sun rays and reducing inflammatory problems.  

Physical and chemical properties of manketti oil are as follows. 

Relative Density  0.920 to 0.930 
Saponification Value  180 to 200 mg KOH/ gm of oil 
Iodine Value   120 to 140 gm of I2 per 100 gm. 

Source: 5 

Side Effects and Toxicity Issues

With almost every nut oil, there may be risk of allergy to some people. In general, it is a non-toxic oil generating no skin sensitivity. It is still not known whether it is safe to be ingested. So, one should use it purely for skin and hair conditioning.  

Buying Guide

Manketti oil is relatively much less popular in areas outside of its native region. Some manufacturers may try to take advantage by trying to sound its health benefits as too exotic. Mother nature has provided everything we need on this very earth. It is just that we may discover something later because of its remoteness. What is exotic in one region of the globe may be commonplace in its natural region. That does not diminish any of the health benefits of manketti oil based on scientific merit. But outrageous benefits may be nothing more than marketing fads. 

The shelf life this oil has is remarkable. It doesn’t go rancid easily because the Vitamin E in it slows down the natural oxidation caused by heat and light.  

References

  1. Fatty acid profile of Manketti (Schinziophyton rautanenii) nut oil: Influence of extraction method and experimental evidence on the existence of α-eleostearic acid.Gwatidzo L. et al, Journal of Cereals and Oilseeds.  
  2. Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health – Linus Pauling Institute at the Oregon State University.
  3. α-eleostearicacid – PubChem. 
  4. Vitamin E and Skin Health – Linus Pauling Institute at the Oregon State University.  
  5. http://glenncorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Ubuntu-Mongongo-Virgin-Oil.-TDS.-02.27.08.pdf 

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