Mongongo oil has been valued for centuries in Africa and is now gaining popularity in the rest of the world as we become educated about its beneficial qualities. Not only is the fruit extremely nutritious, but the oil has many useful properties as an emollient for both hair and skin. What makes mongongo different from other botanical oils and how does this affect its properties?
Mongongo oil is obtained by cold-pressing the nuts that come from the Mongongo or Manketti tree (Schinziophyton rautanenii). The Manketti tree is found from coast to coast in Southern Africa. It thrives in the seasonal dry lands where it weathers a broad range of temperatures from sub-freezing to scorching desert heat. It is found both sporadically scattered and also in large groves throughout northern Namibia, southern Angola, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi. The egg-shaped, reddish brown fruit is prized by both the people and the elephants indigenous to the region. The nuts are often gathered from elephant dung, a practice that is less labor intensive than harvesting the fruit and extracting the nut from the center.
Composition of Mongongo Oil
The nut is very high in fat (>57%) and contains a plethora of other valuable nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc and thiamine. Each seed contains approximately 560 mg of vitamin E (tocopherol). The antioxidant properties of this vitamin lend a high degree of thermal and oxidative stability to the oil, which greatly delays onset of rancidity of the oil, even in the intense South African heat. The oil has been greatly prized, not only for its nutritive benefits, but also as a skin and hair emollient and skin protectant.
The composition of the oil in mongongo fruit is fairly different from many other plant oils used as topical hair treatments or conditioning ingredients. It is comprised of between 40-50% polyunsaturated fatty acids, as compared to shea and coconut oil, which are comprised largely of saturated fatty acids and mango, olive, avocado, jojoba and almond oils, which are comprised mainly of monounsaturated oils.
Fatty Acid Content of Mongongo Oil:
- 45-55% polyunsaturated fatty acids: linoleic acid, alpha-eleostearic acid
- 17% saturated fatty acids: palmitic acid, stearic acid
- 18% monounsaturated fatty acid: oleic acid
Unsaturated molecules have at least one carbon-carbon double bond in their structure. Double bonds are connected at a different angle than single ones and this produces a kink in the molecular geometry. This type of structure inhibits crystallization by impeding packing of adjacent molecules. For this reason, oils with high concentrations of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids are typically either liquids at room temperature or melt readily upon contact with skin.
Stearic acid, a saturated hydrocarbon molecule with 18 carbons (relatively long-chain fatty acid) has a melting point of 69.6°C (157.28°F). Oleic acid is a monounsaturated hydrocarbon with a melting point of 10.5°C (50.9°F). Polyunsaturated acids, such as linoleic and linolenic, have multiple kinks in their chains and are liquid at very low temperatures (melt point = -5°C (23°F) for linoleic acid).