Desert Seed Watermelons

Ark of taste
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According to legend, the city of Timbuktu in Mali was founded by a community that had begun to cultivate wild species of Citrullus lanatus in the local area, domesticating the watermelon. However, the area where this fruit was actually domesticated was most likely the Kalahari Desert in Namibia, in southern Africa. West Africa is a very important centre for biodiversity, thanks to the activity of many small-scale farmers who identified this species among those most adaptable to the arid conditions of the area south of the Sahara. The regions of Timbuktu and Gao, in the desert area of Mali, are important for the cultivation of watermelons.

Fobou, kenete, and musa-musa are varieties that have hard, white flesh. They are cultivated for their seeds, which are rich in fats and proteins. Desert seed watermelons are annual plants that grow on the ground. The fruits have a thick skin and the seeds come in various colors, from cream-white to brown. Normally, the lighter they are, the less fertile they are. These watermelons have roots that can grow up to 1.5 metres underground.

The method of cultivation is peculiar: The seeds of many different varieties of watermelon are planted together with millet and sorghum, most of all in arid areas. No chemical fertilizers are used, only compost, which is made by the farmers. The fields are often surrounded by a barrier made from acacia trees, which keeps undesired animals from entering. The sowing season coincides with the rains (July), though farmers who live near waterways can sow until the end of September. Fertile islands emerge as the water level drops. To easily extract the seeds from the pulp, they fruir are picked when perfectly mature.

Men take care of the fields, while woman process the seeds, transforming them into snacks, sauces, oils, and flour. The seeds are roasted so that the outer layer can be removed. Salt is added to make the so-called bali-bali. The seeds can also be roasted to produce flour, which can be used to prepare hada when sugar is added. A porridge called bita can also be made with the flour, and the seeds are used frequently together with other vegetables to make sauces that accompany rice and couscous. The flour made from the seeds can also be worked with rice and water to form little balls. These are the main feature of a soup called wichi. It is also possible to extract an oil from the flour (via boiling and decanting). A characteristic soap can be produced by boiling the flour and adding potassium.

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