Mongongo oil is a reasonably light oil pressed from the mongongo nuts. It is a relatively less known nut that drops down from the manketti tree, naturally found in the Kalahari desert of southern Africa. The nut oil is excellent for maintaining curly hair types, besides providing excellent nutrition to the skin in linoleic acid, which, as we shall see, is an essential fat for our body. It can also provide some level of natural sun protection factor (SPF) when applied topically.
Mongongo nuts have been eaten by the San Bushmen tribes of the Kalahari for millennia now (7000 years ago approximately). Archaeological digs have corroborated this. The tree from which it is obtained, called the manketti tree (Schinziophyton rautanenii), is a huge, wide-spreading, hardy and long-living tree that has adapted itself to survive severely water-scarce region where temperatures fluctuate from blistering hot to cold daily. To achieve heights of up to 25 m in deserts is no mean feat. The manketti tree is thus, a wonder of mother nature.
Its fruits taste somewhat like dates. Experts in studying tribal lifestyles believe that the Bushmen tribes of Kalahari have not taken to settled agriculture because they could get stable nutrition from the plentiful manketti trees around.
Inside the fruits is a hard shell, which is roasted to reveal the nuts inside. These nuts are then either cold-pressed or extracted via chemical solvents to produce mongongo nut oil, called manketti oil.
Colour and Aroma
It has yellowish overall colour with green tones with a mild nutty aroma.
Most of its therapeutic benefits are based on the nutrients that it contains and these it delivers to us via the skin.
- Nutrient – first and foremost, it is a nutritive oil that can easily cure deficiency of linoleic acid in the body, even when applied on the skin.
- Anti-inflammatory – Linoleic acid in mongongo oil bestows upon it powerful anti-inflammatory activity. However, it is essential to note that oils rich in LA can have a pro-inflammatory effect on certain people. The great Vitamin E provides an additional anti-inflammatory effect.
- Antioxidant – Significant amount of Vitamin E coupled with some phytonutrients delivers free-radical fighting power.
- Moisturizer – It aids the skin in healing its natural barrier, which is an external layer that prevents water from our skin from evaporating out, leaving it dry and parched.
Health Benefits and Uses
Mongongo oil for Curly Hair
It is known to minimize frizziness, dryness and flakes that are often caused due to excess usage of hair curling products or treatments. In the initial days after a hair curling treatment, hair may look exactly the way you wanted. But over time, the curls or even mild waves may give way to stray hair and frizziness. For this, pour about 3-4 drops of pure mongongo nut oil into the palm and rub it into the hair. Since it is light, this much is sufficient to take care of the straying. This helps curls to last longer.
As a general hair conditioner
Well, there is nothing general about it. Mongongo nut oil is an exquisite oil that makes it very pricey. It is loaded with Vitamin E, which is excellent for detangling the hair, preventing it from sun damage (which leaves the hair strands look almost lifeless) and also revitalizes the hair by inserting its antioxidant power to enable hair cells to fight off the ever-pervasive free radicals in our day to day environment.
As a Lip Balm
One can directly apply a few drops of mongongo nut oil into the lips to heal cracking caused by dry winters or nutritional deficiencies. Both Vitamin E and Linoleic acid have a dominant role to play in repairing skin that has been affected by severe dryness. Moreover, it is light and does not look too glossy. It also tastes good if it is cold-pressed.
Nutritional and Medicinal Information
Manketti oil contains about 64% polyunsaturated fats (PUFA). The broad distribution of saturated and unsaturated fats is as follows.
100 gm of mechanically extracted (cold-pressed) mongongo nut oil contains about
- 64 gm PUFAs
- 17 gm MUFAs
- 16 gm saturated fats.
Detailed distribution of fatty acids is as follows.
|Fatty acid||Carbon notation||Composition|
|Linoleic acid||C 18:2||37.83|
|Oleic acid||C 18:1||17.48|
|α-eleostearic acid||C 18:3||26.11|
|Palmitic acid||C 16:0||9.40|
|Stearic acid||C 18:0||6.68|
Linoleic acid is essential for the health of our skin. It is the most abundant fat in our epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin. It serves an essential purpose by allowing the skin to create a fatty layer in conjunction with proteins like the various keratin forms. This oily layer seals moisture held by our skin cells. This function is essential to keep our body hydrated. When we think of it, the skin is the largest organ of our body. If this barrier were not there, not only would our skin turn dry and dull, even our body would be gasping for water!
Linoleic acid also plays an essential role in synthesizing eicosanoids, which are signalling compounds in the body. Most of them are released to signal the body to reduce inflammation, but some of them may also aggravate inflammation. That depends on the overall lipid profile of the skin cells.
Linoleic acid gets readily absorbed when it is applied topically on the skin. There, within the skin, it forms the backbone of our skin’s barrier by integrating itself into ceramides. Many of the modern cosmetic products developed after dermatological research too focus upon ceramides. 
Thus, mongongo nut oil helps lock moisture within the skin, keeping the skin cells strong and nourished from within, preventing dermatitis and scaling the skin. There is also some link between deficiency of essential fatty acids and hair loss. In that case, applying Linoleic acid-rich oils onto the scalp may help in preventing malabsorption linked hair loss.
α-eleostearic acid is the characteristic fat found in mongongo nut oil. We can easily list oils that are pretty rich in LA, but only a handful of oils are rich in α-eleostearic acid. It possesses efficacy in suppressing tumours and preventing diabetes.  Its most potent effect is its ability to absorb UV radiation. This it does at a wavelength of light measuring 296 nm. This lies smack in the middle of the spectrum of UV-B radiation, which is much more dangerous than UV-A radiation as it causes changes to our DNA, which leads to tumours and cancers, more commonly, skin cancer. Applying mongongo oil on the face or skin drapes a very thin layer across our skin, absorbing UV-B radiation, preventing our skin cells from getting scorched by radiation. This is similar to a sunscreen effect which goes to show the adaptability of nature. A tree that stands resolute in the desert naturally provides sun protection. Otherwise, we have to use sunscreen and sunblocks that often contain artificial chemicals broken down to nanometer level size for increased efficacy. However, it would be better if research could quantify manketti oil’s sun protection in terms of the commonly known unit, the SPF.
Mongongo nuts are incredibly rich in Vitamin E. 100 gm of ripe nuts contain about 560 mg of vitamin E. Since members of the San Bushmen tribe consume these nuts as a staple diet, they obtain the benefits of a diet rich in vitamin E. Since vitamin E is fat-soluble, it is also found in the expelled oil, both cold-pressed or chemically extracted. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant for the skin. It protects our skin cells from free radicals that are created due to exposure to heavy ultraviolet radiation. Thus, it prevents our skin from premature ageing caused by the skin. Topically applying oils rich in vitamin E, like mongongo nut oil or wheat germ oil, acts as a moderate sunscreen. However, vitamin E is easily damaged by the sun. It stays effective longer if our diet is rich in Vitamin C. . To obtain maximum benefit from using mongongo oil, one should eat lots of citrus fruits like lemons, lime, oranges and tangerines.
In conclusion, mongongo nut oil offers nutrition benefits to the skin, protecting it from the harsh sun rays and reducing inflammatory problems.
The physical and chemical properties of manketti oil are as follows.
|Relative Density||0.920 to 0.930|
|Saponification Value||180 to 200 mg KOH/ gm of oil|
|Iodine Value||120 to 140 gm of I2 per 100 gm.|
Side Effects and Toxicity Issues
With almost every nut oil, there may be a risk of allergy to some people. In general, it is a non-toxic oil generating no skin sensitivity. It is still not known whether it is safe to be ingested. So, one should use it purely for skin and hair conditioning.
Manketti oil is relatively much less popular in areas outside of its native region. Some manufacturers may try to take advantage by trying to sound its health benefits as too exotic. Mother nature has provided everything we need on this very earth. It is just that we may discover something later because of its remoteness. What is exotic in one region of the globe may be commonplace in its natural area. That does not diminish any of the health benefits of manketti oil based on scientific merit. But outrageous benefits may be nothing more than marketing fads.
The shelf life this oil has is remarkable. It doesn’t go rancid easily because Vitamin E slows down the natural oxidation caused by heat and light.
- Fatty acid profile of Manketti (Schinziophyton rautanenii) nut oil: Influence of extraction method and experimental evidence on the existence of α-eleostearic acid.Gwatidzo L. et al., Journal of Cereals and Oilseeds.
- Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health – Linus Pauling Institute at the Oregon State University.
- α-eleostearicacid – PubChem.
- Vitamin E and Skin Health – Linus Pauling Institute at the Oregon State University.