Marula oil

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Marula oil is extracted from the kernels (nuts) of the Marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea), from the Anacardiaceae family. Marula oil is traditionally used in cosmetics, in food as a cooking oil and as a meat preservative and to treat leather.

Chemical structure[edit]

Marula oil contains a large proportion of monounsaturated fatty acids and natural antioxidants which make the oil very stable. The fatty acid composition of marula oil includes:[1]

Mono-unsaturated fatty acids:

Polyunsaturated fatty acids:

Saturated fatty acids:

Tocopherols, sterols and flavonoids, with antioxidant action, procyanidin, galattotannin and catechins are also found in marula oil.[2]

Physical properties[edit]

Marula oil has a clear, light yellow colour and a nutty aroma. It has a saponification value of approximately 188-199 and a specific gravity of 0.91-0.92 (at 15°C).[3]

Traditional uses[edit]

The Tsonga people of South Africa and Mozambique have used the oil as a moisturising body lotion for women and also as a massage oil for babies. In the past, women used Marula oil rather than water to clean themselves.[4]

Marula oil forms also an important part of people's diets, especially for people of the Inhambane Province in Mozambique, Owambo in north central Namibia, Northern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and the Zvishavane district of Zimbabwe. Furthermore, marula plays an important role in the diet of Bushmen and Bantu tribes.[5][6] The Venda utilise the oil from the kernels to preserve meat, which enables it to last up to a year. Today, Marula oil is still considered a delicacy by local people, and is added to a wide variety of traditional and modern recipes.[4]


Studies have looked at the oxidation stability, induction period (34 hours), polar compounds, free fatty acids of Marula oil as a frying oil.[7]


  1. ^ Hore, D. (2004). Formulation of cosmetic skin lotions using Adansonia digitata and Sclerocarya birrea oil from Zimbabwe. University of Zimbabwe, Harare. 
  2. ^ Mariod; Matthaus, Bertrand; Eichner, K.; et al. (2004). "Fatty acid, tocopherol and sterol composition as well as oxidative stability of three unusual Sudanese oils". Journal of Food Lipids 11 (3): 179–189. doi:10.1111/j.1745-4522.2004.01131.x. 
  3. ^ Hall, J.; et al. (2002). Sclerocarya birrea: a monograph. Publication Number 19 (School of Agricultural and Forest Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor). 
  4. ^ a b Botelle, A (2001). A History of Marula Use in North-central Namibia. Windhoek, Namibia: Eudofano Women’s Co-operative Ltd and CRIAA SA-DC. 
  5. ^ Engelter & Wehmeyer; Wehmeyer, A.S. (1970). "Fatty acid composition of oils of some edible seeds of wild plants". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 18: 25–26. doi:10.1021/jf60167a025. 
  6. ^ Shackleton, S.E.; et al. (2002). A summary of knowledge on Sclerocarya birrea with emphasis on its importance as a NTFP in South and Southern Africa. Part 1. 
  7. ^ Mariod; Matthäus, Bertrand; Eichner, Karl; Hussein, Ismail H.; et al. (2006). "Effects of processing on the quality and stability of three unconventional Sudanese oils". European Journal of Lipid Sciences and Technology 108 (4): 298–308. doi:10.1002/ejlt.200500323.