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The kola nut is a cultural staple in many West African countries, prized for use in ceremonies, libations and divinations and scientifically for its effects as a central nervous system stimulant.
Throughout West Africa, every market, bus depot, and corner shop has small piles of kola nuts for sale. It’s a significant cash crop for poor rural farmers. Many people chew them daily for a dose of caffeine. Each nut contains more caffeine than two large cups of American coffee.
The kola nut is the fruit of the kola tree (Cola acuminata and Cola nitida), indigenous to West Africa. The trees, can reach heights of 40 to 60 feet and produce a star-shaped fruit. Each fruit contains between two and five kola nuts. About the size of a chestnut, this little fruit is packed with caffeine.
Kola nuts have a bitter taste when chewed fresh. When they’re dried, the taste becomes milder and they reportedly smell of nutmeg.
In the West (i.e., the United States and Europe), Kola extract is a common food flavoring allegedly found in Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and now many popular energy drinks. It is also marketed as a herbal supplement.
While many claims are made regarding health benefits of kola nuts, they have yet to be scientifically researched and proven. Most of the benefits of kola nut are connected to its high caffeine content, which maintains wakefulness, reduces fatigue, increases energy and reduces hunger.
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