Amatungulu, Num-num, Grootnoemnoem
Widespread mostly in the forest areas along the coast, from the eastern Cape province in South Africa to Mozambique, the Natal plum (also called amantungulu, num-num or grootnoemnoem) is a bush that can reach a height of 5 metres, featuring large, shiny leaves. It is used mostly to create impenetrable hedges that small animals cannot get through: its spines are hard, dense, strong and forked.
The white flowers are fragrant, and the fruit is large, oval in shape and of a colour going from red to purple, depending on how ripe it is. Both the leaves and the fruit contain a milky white sap, typical of plants belonging to the Apocynaceae family.
In the past, the plant was a basic ingredient for the population’s food security. The fruit, which grew in both forests and in green urban areas, was used to prepare traditional dishes, and the Zulu population used in in their daily diet. However, it was progressively replaced by other products, mostly imported from the colonists who arrived in South Africa starting in the 1600s.
Today a group of chefs and local growers have decided to start using the Natal plum again in the kitchen, especially to recover the traditional flavours that have slowly been lost. The availability of this product today is limited to the areas where it grows wild, because the plant is not cultivated, but local interest in its flavour is growing. The fruit, which can be eaten with its skin and seeds, are eaten fresh or used to make jellies, jams, liqueurs, desserts or ice creams, adding honey or sugar. Lastly, Natal plums, pears, spices and red wine can be used to make a dense syrup.