The name "kola nut" generally refers to the seeds of plants in the genus Cola, which was once classified as part of the cocoa family Sterculiaceae but is now more commonly classified as part of the mallow family Malvaceae (as subfamilies Byttnerioideae, Sterculioideae, etc). Such cola tree forests are recognized in Africa's tropical rainforests. Their caffeine-rich seeds are being used as flavouring ingredients in beverages, which is where the term "cola," which refers to a variety of carbonated soft drinks, comes from.
Kola Nut Description
The kola nut is a caffeine-rich nut found on evergreen Cola trees, mainly Cola acuminata and Cola nitida plants. Cola acuminata is a 20-metre-tall evergreen tree growing long, ovoid leaves that are pointed at both ends and have a leathery texture. The trees include star-shaped fruit and cream flowers with purplish-brown striations. A white seed shell surrounds around a dozen prismatic seeds within the fruit. The scent of the nut is soft and rose-like. The initial flavour is salty, but it sweetens when you chew. The caffeine throughout the nut can be extracted by boiling it.
Kola fruit possesses approximately two to four percent of alkaloids, caffeine, tannins, theobromine, saponins, and flavonoids.
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Kola Nut Uses
Kola nuts have a bitter taste and are high in caffeine. It can be chewed in both social and private settings in several West African countries. It is sometimes addressed ceremonially to leaders or visitors. Kola nuts once ground and combined with honey, are thought to facilitate digestion and have been used as cough medicine in folk medicine. While kola nut extract is no longer used throughout major commercial cola drinks including Coca-Cola, kola nuts however are known best in Western culture mostly as a flavouring ingredient and are one of the providers of caffeine in cola as well as other commonly flavoured beverages.
Kola Nut Cultivation
It is a tropical rainforest tree that prefers a hot, humid climate, but this can survive a dry season if the groundwater level is high enough. It can be grown in drier areas with access to groundwater. C. nitida is a shade bearer, but it grows a wider crown that produces more fruits in open areas. Despite being a lowland forest tree, this has been identified at altitudes of over 300 metres on deep, fertile soils with uniformly distributed rainfall.
Weeding must be done on a regular basis, either manually or with the use of herbicides. Irrigation could be given to the plants, although it is critical to extract the water via an efficient drainage system because excess water could be harmful to the plant's development. The kola nut plant reacts well to fertilisers when cultivated in an inadequate shade. In most cases, windbreaks are necessary to defend the plants against strong gales.
Kola nuts can be harvested either mechanically or manually by plucking them from a tree branch. Nigeria accounts for 52.4 percent of global production, with the Ivory Coast and Cameroon following closely behind. Kola nuts could be preserved for a long time if held in a cool, dry spot.
Pests and Diseases
The kola weevil - Balanogastris cola is known to strike the nuts. The larvae of the cacao-eating moth Characoma strictigrapta penetrate into the nuts. To combat the assault on nursery plants, traders often use an extract of Rauvolfia vomitoria bark or pulverised fruits of Xylopia and Capsicum. Sahlbergella spp., cacao pests, were being discovered on C. nitida as an alternative host plant. Though seeds are vulnerable to worms, wood is vulnerable to borer attack.
Society and Culture
The offering of kola nuts to visitors or at a traditional gathering demonstrates goodwill in Igbo cultural traditions.
In Chinua Achebe's 1958 novel Things Fall Apart, a kola nut ceremony is briefly mentioned. Kola nuts are mentioned at least ten more times in the book, demonstrating the importance of the kola nut in pre-colonial 1890s Igbo culture in Nigeria.
"He who brings kola brings life," says one of the kola nut idioms in Things Fall Apart. GraceLand, a novel by Chris Abani published in 2004, features it prominently. The kola nut is also listed in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, though it is pronounced "cola."