Balenti adds the benefits of baobab to functional nut butters

19 Apr 2024

French startup Balenti uses sustainably sourced, wild-harvested baobab fruit to make its healthy nut butters with functional benefits.

Paris-based startup Balenti was founded by Binta Lopes Rodrigues, who saw the business as a way of bringing the benefits of baobab to a wider market. By adding the ingredient to finished products, she can contribute to empowering women to sustainably harvest baobab; protecting wild baobab trees; and bringing the health benefits to consumers in Europe.

Balenti adds the benefits of baobab to functional nut butters
Pictured: Balenti's boabab functional nut butters on display at the ChangeNOW Summit. | Image credits: Niamh Michail

“I'm from Guinea Bissau, I grew up there and spent 15 years of my life there eating baobab ice cream and juice. It was something that I always had in my routine but years later I discovered all the scientific studies about the richness of this ingredient – it’s a superfood and a powerhouse with vitamins, fibre, and prebiotic fibre. It also gives lots of energy and it’s delicious,” she said, speaking to Ingredients Network at the ChangeNOW Summit in Paris last month.

“Then I started asking myself why it is not more known […] – especially after I discovered it's a wild ingredient so it's a source of revenue for local communities in West Africa and it's also a way to preserve and protect the forest.”

Three baobab-spiked nut butters to shine, energise, and de-stress

Balenti has three baobab-infused nut butters whose branding centres on the health benefits they aim to deliver: De-Stress, Shine, and Boost.

The De-Stress nut butter contains cashew paste, dates, coconut, baobab powder, agave syrup, coconut and sunflower oil, oat fibre, and lemon zest. The Shine nut butter has an almond and cashew base and contains baobab, hibiscus, cranberry, and cardamom while the Boost spread contains poppy seeds, cinnamon, and ginger.

Adding baobab powder to a nut butter was a way to use this relatively unknown ingredient in a familiar format, she said.

“We figured out that customers want something easy to use because baobab is already a new fruit for them: they don't know how to use it, where to put it, and they mix it with things that are not good. And then they say, ‘Oh, it's super good for the health but it's not tasty.’

“But it is tasty – you just need to know what to mix it with! So that's why we [decided] we needed to create finished goods to make it easier for people to use it in a product that appeals to them.”

Baobab launches have a health and wellness positioning

Indigenous to Africa, baobab trees can tolerate high temperatures and long periods of drought. Wild harvested, the fruit pulp has a sharp, fruity flavour – Balenti describes it as a cross between a lemon and a peach – and the seeds can be pressed for oil.

Baobab powder is a rich source of vitamin C – one 10 g serving provides one third of the recommended daily requirement – and fibre as it is made up of almost 50% fibre. The pulp also contains calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and other nutrients.

Although relatively unknown in Europe, product launches with baobab have been rising slowly but steadily over the past decade, with most launches leveraging a health and wellness positioning, according to data from Mintel’s Global New Product Database (GNPD).

Innocent Drinks, for instance, recently launched a Revitalise Super Smoothie in Belgium made with apple, cranberry, raspberry, pomegranate, flax seeds, and baobab puree.

UK brand Naturya launched an Apple & Cinnamon SuperShake powder with baobab while in Poland Rossmann enerBiO launched an antioxidant fruit bar made with 2% baobab fruit powder. In the UK, Marks & Spencer partnered with personalised nutrition startup Zoe for the co-branded M&S Food X ZOE Gut Shot that contains baobab fruit pulp.

Adding value to African superfoods

Balenti worked with an R&D company to perfect the products’ formulation in terms of the nutritional profile and taste. But the decision to use cashew paste as the main nut base also stemmed from a desire to use ingredients that are produced locally in Guinea Bissau and West Africa. Cashew paste offers other advantages because the final product does not need to be pasteurised, which helps retain the nutrients of all the ingredients, said Lopes Rodrigues.

“The spreads are a way to add value to the baobab ingredient,” she said. “We work with female cooperatives, and they are the ones telling us what's their price and we respect their price.”

Balenti also supplies baobab powder to brands that want to create co-branded products. So far, it has worked with artisanal manufacturers and restaurants making baobab juice, ice cream, and sweet snacks.

“We're looking forward to partnering with brands that want to embrace this baobab journey with us, not only for the health benefits but also for the impact that it's delivering for the local community,” said the entrepreneur.

It is also an easy ingredient to produce and work with, she added.

“It's a wonderful fruit because it's so rich and it's naturally dry, so it's very easy to store,” she said. “You don't need to use water in the [processing] and the cooperatives work with solar energy.”

Balenti currently sells on its website and in some brick-and-mortar stores in France, and it is currently in negotiations with wholesalers. Ultimately, the company wants to manufacture its products in France for the European market and in Guinea Bissau for the African market.

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