Cola Nut: Everything You Need to Know About our Magic Ingredient
‘Cola adds life’ isn't just a jingle. For thousands of years the cola nut has been part of life in West Africa, where Karma Drinks source ‘the real thing’.
Long before advertising and catchy jingles about soft drinks, the people living in the rainforests of West Africa would say, “He Who Brings Cola Brings Life”. Strange but true, the tag line comes from the same place that real cola grows… and real cola really does bring life. In Sierra Leone cola nut is chewed for energy, it’s used in rituals to celebrate birth and to bring people together.
What is cola nut used for?
The little ‘nut’ (it’s actually a seed) plays a big part in daily life in the Gola Rainforest. Cola nut is included in dowries to deliver good fortune to married couples, and naming ceremonies for children. It’s also important in death and it’s magical properties have travelled far beyond its African origins.
There’s a Bloc Party song, ‘Where is Home’ about the murder of a black boy in London that goes: “after the funeral, breaking kola nuts, we sit and reminisce about the past.”
Like music, cola’s taste changes tempo. At first bite the cola nut is bitter but as you chew it becomes sweeter with a rose-like flavour.
When we first visited the Gola Rainforest, we found out how sharing or ‘splitting’ a cola nut is a way of welcoming people. Whether you’re a visitor or stranger, if you’re not offered a cola nut then watch out!
Cola nut’s bitterness, according to Boma’s elders, has a reason. Ancient legend says that Allah gave the gift of a cola nut to the Prophet Mohammad.
Unfortunately Mohammad was away prophesying when it arrived so Allah’s freshly picked token of love was not eaten, leaving the cola nut to become bitter. But still loved. So if somebody sends you a gift, make sure you’re ready to receive it.
But divine provenance isn’t the only reason the cola nut is loved.
Benefits of the cola nut: the science
It’s bitterness comes from an alkaloid called theobromine, which is like caffeine. It’s handy for travellers and traders who need to go great distances and stay awake. They carry cola nuts and if they get tired or hungry they chew it to wake up and ease their rumbling stomachs; West African version of a flat white.
As well as being the world’s most popular fizzy drink flavour and the second most popular word in the English language, cola has medicinal properties and is chewed as a treatment for asthma, bad breath, boosting vitality and queasy stomachs.
Real cola is, quite possibly, the ultimate hangover cure. Although real cola, like coca leaf, hasn’t been used in major soft drinks carrying its name since the 1900s.
Knowing how vital cola and other rainforest crops are to the communities around the Gola Rainforest the Karma Foundation is funding the rehabilitation of forest farms.
“Sustainable farming from the rainforest is an income for the people of Boma, who have struggled to sell their crops since the ten-year civil war decimated their farms,” says Albert Tucker, Chair of the Karma Foundation.
“Instead of using artificial cola ‘flavour’, we saw the opportunity to offer an authentic cola nut as a way to support farming families. Revitalising cola’s value is important. It’s the source of so many other things in the villages and life wouldn’t be the same without it.”
Every bottle of Karma Cola gives back to the Karma Cola Foundation, which in turn gives back to cola farmers in Sierra Leone.
What goes around comes around.