Called “Ugiri” in Nigeria where the kernels are used a great deal, the tree is not actually related to the Mango at all, but Wild Mango is the most common translation in English.
There are two varieties of Wild Mango grown. One has sweet, edible fruit (Irvingia gabonensis); the other variety has inedible, bitter, sour fruit (Irvingia wombolu.) It is very hard to distinguish between the two trees until they bear fruit. Both trees need up to 10 years of growth before they fruit. They have leaves 2 ½ to 4 inches (6 to 10 cm) long. The sweet, edible fruit is about 2 to 3 inches wide (5 to 7.5 cm), ripening from green to yellow.
The seed kernels of both types of fruit are, however, used for cooking with and are actually used more than either fruit. When the fruit is being harvested for the kernels alone, then the fruit is just harvested as it falls to the ground.
The flat kernel, called “Ogbono” (or “agbono”) is the inner part of the seed. The seeds are very hard to crack: people often whack them with machetes to get at the kernels inside. The kernels are extracted from the broken seeds, and the rest of the seed discarded.
The kernels are dried in the sun and ground, or cooked, then crushed, shaped into round loaves and dried in the sun. The kernels can also be stored whole, but the loaf form is more convenient to use in cooking, as you just scrape or break off as much as you need to use.
Whether just ground or made into loaves, the crushed kernels act as a thickener and a “viscosity” agent in dishes.
Outside of Africa, the kernel is sold both whole and crushed in African food stores.
The sweet fruit is fibrous, and can be made into juice or jam. Researchers are looking at the kernels as a source of oil. The tree is also used for its timber.
Use the crushed kernels in small amounts. Stir the powder right into soup, a little at a time, and stir while adding to prevent lumps. 5 crushed kernels enough to thicken a stew for 4 people.
Whole dried kernels or the crushed kernel loaves can be stored for up to 1 year unrefrigerated.
Literature & Lore
“Onye eze nkwere ejegh akü ugiri.” (A man with a missing tooth does not eat ugiri with relish.)
Called Etima, Odika, Dika in Cameroon and Gabon. Called “ugiri” in parts of Nigeria. The kernels are called “amande de mangue sauvage” in French.