All you need to know about kola nut

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The kola nut is the fruit of the kola tree (Cola acuminata and Cola nitida), indigenous to West Africa. The trees, which reach heights of 40 to 60 feet, 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.

Forms and uses

The kola nut is a cultural staple in many West African countries, prized 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.

In the West (the United States and Europe), you are more likely to encounter kola nut extract than the fresh nut itself. Kola extract is a common food flavoring found in Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and now many popular energy drinks.

Kola nut has been listed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as generally safe for human consumption. Kola nut extract is classified as a natural food flavoring. The FDA has also approved kola extract as an inactive ingredient in certain pharmaceuticals.

In the past, kola extract was used in certain weight loss drugs and over-the-counter stimulants.

Kola nut extract is also marketed as an herbal supplement. These supplements are typically not monitored by the FDA, but they may include a warning about the caffeine content. The American Herbal Products Association includes kola nuts on a list of caffeine-containing substances that should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women or those under the age of 18.

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