This is Bitter Kola

There are some connections I never make. I start in a certain place and move on and up from there, so the discovery of a fundamental aspect of the thing that leads to a discovery is amazing. Like Bitter Kola – seen on street corners, in trays, papery brown skin wrapping creamy, bitter white crunch nut is actually the heart of a peach-like fruit, complete with velvety skin. It reminds me of Ogbono, another seed within a fruit!

This is the fruit of the Bitter Kola, Garcinia kola. Who knew that seed had orange edible pulp surrounding it for part of its life? Well, I certainly didn’t and it’s been a joy to discover. It reminds me of when I first discovered that hazelnuts came in shells and grew on trees…and that my left-handed friend, also an artist drew with his left-hand, a story I’ve since told many times.

Many thanks to T. I saw some on her Instagram page, asked (okay begggggged for some) – they came from her mum’s farm and voila – what a gift!


It’s rainy season in Nigeria and there’s lots in season from passion fruit to guava and sugar cane but it’s this orange bitter kola fruit that has me tripping.

Name: Bitter kola

Genus/Latin name: Garcinia kola

Plant Family: Guttifereae

Other names:

  • East
    • Aku-ilu or ugolo in Ibo
  • West
    • Orogbo in Yoruba
  • North
    • Cida goro in Hausa
  • South
    • Oje in Bokyi (Cross River)
    • Edun or Efiari in Efik (Cross River)
    • Efrie in Ejagham-Ekin (Cross River)
    • Efiat in Ibibio
    • Akaan in Ijaw (Delta/ Bayelsa)
    • Okain in Itsekiri (Delta)
  • False kola, Kola male

Season: the first fruits I saw were in May and it’s September now. They’re still available.

Provenance: Nigerian south?

Uses: the pulp is eaten and the seeds which consist of a creamy white, oval nut with brown skin. The skin stays fast to the nut when fresh but is dried. It is ready when the papery brown skin slips off with ease on rubbing. It is a snack, cough remedy and a popular offering – the seed nut – at social gatherings. 


About the fruit – shape, size:  The fruits are smooth and elliptically shaped  with velvety orange – reddish brown skin (when old? My fruit was aging a bit, the skin had wrinkled and turned brown compared with bright orange ones which I’d seen before) with orange-yellow pulp and the size of a peach/ mandarin. I found the larger fruits had more seeds – 4 in my case versus the smaller ones which had 2 – 3 seeds. The more popular seed within has a brown seed coat about 3cm plus somewhat shaped like a Brazil nut, and surrounding a creamy nut

Taste profile: The orange flesh is a bittersweet and the nuts bitter, slightly sour and astringent. 

To eat: You wash the skin, just as you would any fruit. I cut it in half from head to tail, carefully because I didn’t want to cut through the seeds. You can eat the pulp – apparently aids digestion. Once open, I extracted the seeds which part reminded me of tangerine/ mandarin segments. I washed them and will leave them to dry….

So, yes, very exciting this Bitter kola fruit is. 


Have you seen it before? Tried it? What do you think?

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