A Santa Barbara startup hopes to bring the rumored superfood qualities of the African baobab fruit to the U.S. market. Kaibae sells the fruit as a powdered supplement. The company said the product provides a highly-concentrated source of nutrition and has a sweet-yet-tart flavor that blends grapefruit, pear and vanilla, and an oil. Rumor has it the baobab fruit can even work beauty miracles.
A Santa Barbara startup hopes to bring the rumored superfood qualities of the African baobab fruit to the U.S. market.
Kaibae sells the fruit as a powdered supplement. The company said the product provides a highly-concentrated source of nutrition and has a sweet-yet-tart flavor that blends grapefruit, pear and vanilla, and an oil. Rumor has it the baobab fruit can even work beauty miracles.
Kaibae was founded in Santa Barbara by Luc Maes, a neuropathic physician and chiropractor who has long researched the medicinal benefits of plants and discovered baobab on his first trip to Ghana last year.
“I’ve been studying plants for all these years and I just fell in love with the baobab tree,” Maes said. “It’s like this tree took me on this journey and I became fascinated with everything about it.”
The tree’s dried fruit pulp supplies 12 times the dietary fiber of an apple, four times more potassium than a banana and 500 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, among many other vital nutrients, Kaibae claims. The baobab tree’s fruits, flowers, shoots, leaves and even roots are edible. Proponents say the food, which is a familiar fruit in Africa, promotes digestive, immune system and skin health and reduces inflammation. In its native environment, the baobab’s various parts are often used to treat fever, kidney and bladder disease, asthma, stomach and lower-back pain and skin sores
Though traditional in Africa, baobab is little-known elsewhere. Maes saw introducing it to the growing U.S. superfood market as a ripe opportunity, so he began the first baobab supply chain in Northern Ghana.
“I learned about the role the tree has played in the savannah for centuries. In this very sparse land you have this bountiful fruit,” Maes said. “Our goal is to identify crops that have great health potential but are lost crops — crops that have been underutilized — and use this to create economic opportunity in the community where they’re harvested.”
Kaibae created jobs for 150 baobab collectors across four communities, he said. Maes said that by providing employment opportunities in an impoverished area, Kaibae has provided increased access to education and health care in the area. Baobab is harvested in the region’s agricultural offseason, providing work when labor demand is low. The trees are managed sustainably, Maes said.
In Kusaal, a language spoken in the region from which Maes sources his baobab, the word “kaibae” is used as a greeting that inquires about the well-being of another person.
“For me it’s also very important that people know where the food comes from,” Maes said. “People who buy it can be part of that.”
Kaibae Vice President Thomas Cole works alongside the startup’s employees in Africa three months out of the year. He said the company’s utilization of untapped materials and its position in communities with a need for development places it at the forefront of social entrepreneurship. “It’s got the triple bottom line — it’s good for the environment, it’s good for you and it’s a huge benefit for these communities,” Cole said. “It’s an important model for any sort of entrepreneur moving forward.”
The company is based in Santa Barbara, a community that Maes said is eager to support social enterprise and thinks progressively about sustainability. He recruited Cole, a board member at the local nonprofit Community Action Fund for Women in Africa, to run sourcing and development as Kaibae’s vice president.
“He wanted someone with Africa experience, with community work experience who is based in or around Santa Barbara. He came up with me,” Cole said. “It’s been a good relationship ever since.” Customers placed hundreds of orders in Kaibae’s first month. Its next move will be to create a skincare line, perhaps using marula oil sourced from Uganda.
“Luc and I are looking at different botanical products that are underutilized in the cosmetics and the food industry,” Cole said. “But we’re just exploring right now.”