Ark of taste
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In South Africa, the use of leafy vegetables is as old as the history of modern man. Khoi and San people who have lived in Southern Africa for at least the past 120 000 years, relied on the gathering plants from the wild for their survival. The Bantu-speaking tribes, which started to settle in South Africa about 2 000 years ago also collected leafy vegetables from the wild. In their food system hunting and the collection of edible plants were particularly important during times of emergency, when crops had failed or livestock herds had been decimated.

Nkaka (Momordica balsamina) is a vegetable mainly found in Limpopo, and it is consumed specifically by Tsonga and Venda people throughout the country.

Nkaka is a climb growing plant with small green leaves, and bear fruits, which are green when not ripen, and pinkish and reddish colour when ripen. The taste of nkaka is bitter, but delicious when cooked by experienced cook.
This plant is a rare species, it grows planted or without being planted, but its quantity is relatively very low.
It is a relish for these people, and it can also be added to other vegetables, such as guxe and xiphaswa. It is eaten with pap (a traditional maize-meal) or added to other vegetable dishes. Nkaka is cooked while it is still green, but it can also be dried in the sun, where the leaves can be used solely as herbs and spices and can be stored for longer period when dry.
It is rarely to found these days, due to extreme weather conditions, specifically lack of rain and drought, though it tries to survive during harsh conditions.

Nkaka grows in both ways, planted and not planted, and it well grows alongside the fence as it is a climbing plant.

Though nkaka plant has seeds, usually its seeds are not selected, they are left to die with the plant, or picked to be cooked with the leaves. It is a very selective species, and it need to stand alone when growing. When being taken care of, the plant can grow to fill up the size of ant given space of the fence it is growing on.

Though subsistence farmers don’t select the seeds of nkaka plant, it would be useful for farmers to start collecting its seeds for future references since there is a huge risk of the plant to disappear.

It is considered as a high value plant but, due to its scarcity, nkaka is hardly found in street market, and has never been sold in supermarkets.

When the leaves and fruits of nkaka has been picked, preferably young fresh leaves and fruits, then boil them together in water with salt, tomatoes (optional) and grounded nuts for added flavours and cook from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on receipts and the thickness of leaves., and serve with pap, hot or cold.
Green leaves of nkaka can only be stored for up to five days, while its dried leaves can be stored for longer period.

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StateSouth Africa


Other info


Vegetables and vegetable preserves

Indigenous community:Tsonga e Venda
Nominated by:Themba Chauke