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Prosopis cineraria as an Unconventional Legumes,
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Hanan Sobhy Amin Afifi and Ihsan Abu Al-rub
Additional information is available at the end of the chapter
© 2016 The Author(s). Licensee InTech. This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Nutrition and Health Benets
Hanan SobhyAmin A and Ihsan AbuAl-rub
Additional information is available at the end of the chapter
Prosopis cineraria (L.) Druce is considered as one of the highly valued plants in the native
system of medicine for many arid and dry areas in the world. Ancient literature for
Arabian Gulf and Indian desert illustrated the important of the plant in treated vari-
ous ailments like asthma, dysentery, leucoderma, leprosy, dyspepsia, earache, etc. The
present chapter review the using of P. cineraria as unconventional legumes that not
well known as a rich and sustainable source of protein for many people in the world. It
emphasis on its broad food and nonfood applications, nutritional values and health ben-
ets. As well as looking at the phytochemical constituent’s content that has been identi-
ed in the various parts of the plant as alkaloid, steroids, alcohol and alkane. The present
paper describes the morphological trait of P. cineraria and identies the environmental
conditions required for its natural distribution. Historically, this plant has drag aention
for its various uses therefore, it has been considered as the National Tree of the United
Arab Emirates in the Arabian Gulf.
Keywords: Prosopis cineraria, Leguminosae, nutritional value, pharmacological
properties, usage, phytochemicals
The continuous world population growth, inadequate protein sources, exorbitant cost of
animal protein are considered the main reasons for malnutrition and undernourishment
among people living in many developing countries around the world. To meet the increasing
demand of protein, alternative strategies and unconventional sources of protein for human
and animal nutrition have been considered recently.
© 2019 The Author(s). Licensee IntechOpen. This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Trees of Prosopis genus, which belongs to the Leguminosae family, are one of the most impor-
tant source of proteins in arid and semi-arid regions. Its capability to stand heat and tolerate
drought, salt, and alkalinity make Prosopis cultivated and distributed in many areas around
the world especially India, America, GCC, and MENA . According to the recent studies,
the species Prosopis cineraria has signicant contribution in the farm economy and rural area
development. Undoubtedly, it shares with other Prosopis species numerous characteristics,
uses and eects, i.e., chemical composition, types of phytochemical components, and health
eects. Prosopis cineraria has been valued by dierent communities and cultures for the versa-
tility of all its parts and named as “the Wonder Tree” or “King of Desert”  or “the Golden
Tree of Indian deserts” . The tree parts including leaves, pods, seeds and barks has been
used in many ways as food, i.e., our, drink, vegetable, and gum. Leaves and pods are used
for ruminant and animal feed. Prosopis cineraria extensively used in traditional medicine to
cure many diseases such as ailments like leprosy, dysentery, asthma, leucoderma, dyspep-
sia and earache [4–6]. Barks are used for non-nutritional purposes, i.e., wood, tanning, fuel,
rewood and charcoal. The Prosopis cineraria has many chemical constituents as alkaloid,
steroids, alcohol and alkane.
Despite its fabulous importance in local culture, there is minimal aware by the developed
communities about P. cineraria as unconventional legumes. Therefore, authors present a
comprehensive chapter about this important tree from all aspects including traditional uses,
biological and phytochemical investigation.
The genus Prosopis L. belongs to Leguminosae family, subfamily Mimosoideae and accom-
modates 44 species of which 40 are native to North and South Americas, three originate in
Asia, and one comes from Africa [7–9]. Trees of Prosopis L. are widespread in Western Asia,
Africa and arid and semi-arid regions in the Americas and Australia.
The species P. cineraria is native to dry and arid regions of Arabia and India . Its main
population is center on the Thar Desert of India and Pakistan, with less dense populations
occur in the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, and Afghanistan . It is considered the national tree
of the United Arab Emirates . P. cineraria is known as Ghaf in Arabic, Khejri in Indian, and
Jand in Pakistan.
P. cineraria is an evergreen, thorny tree, 10–25 m in high. The stem is commonly straight, un-
branched for several meters with a gray roughish, exfoliated bark (Figure 1). The branches
are slender, drooped giving the canopy a rounded appearance with short triangular spines
(3–6 mm long) between leaves nodes. At the time of no grazing the lower branches can reach
to the ground. Leaves are gray-green, alternate usually divided into two pinnae, each pinna
has 7–14 pairs of oblong, oblique, apex leaets. The mid-rib nearer the upper edge, is sessile.
Flowers are small, yellow or creamy white, nearly sessile in slender pedunculated axil-
lary spikes 5–13 cm long. Pods are yellow to reddish brown with cylindrical shape and
slightly curved; 10–20 cm long and 0.5–0.8 cm thick. Seeds 10–25, oblong or rhomboidal,
Legume Seed Nutraceutical Research2
brown, smooth, with a moderately hard taste [13, 14]. The tap root of P. cineraria penetrates
vertically up to 20 m but can reach water at an extraordinary depth of 53 m or more .
Flowering and fruiting period is varied between locations and weather condition and gen-
erally from February to May after the new ush of leaves. The pods are mature almost after
3. Environmental conditions
P. cineraria is a xerophytic plant that is well adapted to dry and arid environment. Under the
conditions of drought, the tree produces more owers and fruits . In areas of its natural
distribution, the annual rainfall ranges between 100 up to 500 mm annually, whereas the
optimum density is conned to areas receiving 350–400 mm . The climate is characterized
by extremes summer temperature varies from about 40–48°C . It can tolerate frost and
withstand low temperature less than 10°C in the winter season.
The tree grows on a variety of soils. It is seen at its best on alluvial soils consisting of various
mixtures of sand and clay . In arid areas, the growth is beer in dune lows than in sandy
plains. Good drainage is very essential. P. cineraria can grow under highly saline and alkaline
soils. However, it relatively salt tolerant at seed germination whereas seedling emergence was
found to be reduced to 50% in soil with a salinity of 7.6 dS m−1 and a further increase in salt
concentration was detrimental to seed germination .
4. Socio economic and ecological importance
P. cineraria is a multipurpose tree that holds an important role in the rural economy in
many arid regions, particularly in the Arabian Gulf and the northwest arid region of Indian
Figure 1. The tree of Prosopis cineraria, ower, leave and pods.
Prosopis cineraria as an Unconventional Legumes, Nutrition and Health Benefits 3
sub-continent. Historically, the Bedouin and Indian uses all its part in their traditional life-
style [21–23]. It is used as a folk remedy for various diseases and conditions .
The unripe pods are used for making curry and pickle. The green pods are consumed as
vegetables. The our of mature pods is used for cookies preparation and other local dishes.
The leaves and dry pods are annually harvested for cale and sheep feed, where an adult tree
produce 2–5 kg/year dry pods. A resin occurring naturally on the tree, known as mesquite
gum, is also occasionally eaten by people .
P. cineraria as a leguminous tree has importance in improving soil fertility through xing
atmospheric nitrogen. Lier fall production for P. cineraria and decomposition rate are con-
sidered the highest comparing with other arid trees, and that build up soil organic maer
contents under its canopy, increase soluble calcium and available phosphorus and decrease
soil pH [26, 27]. Therefore, farmers tend to grow eld crops under its canopy to boost the
growth and productivity of their crops.
The rounded shape crown provides the shade and shelter for animals and wildlife during
hot season. It is widely used for sand dune stabilization program because of it is deep mass
root system which enable plant not to compete with others for moisture and nutrients .
It provides good quality resources of wood for basic construction and fuel for people in the
P. cineraria is one of major bee foraging plant in the Arabian Gulf , it supports honey bees
with long and abundant owering and honey produced is of a good quality.
5. Nutritional value
Numerous people around the world, especially in Africa and Asia, are suering from protein
deciency due to lack of protein-rich food. P. cineraria have 16.5–18.25% protein content com-
pared with 25.47% in Acacia nilotica and 38.89% in Acacia senegal . On other hand, legumes
contain 18–35% protein , and cereals contain 10–15% protein . Therefore, Prosopis
seeds are considered a potential and cheap source of protein for industrial use, especially
in developing Afro−Asian countries and can be an alternate protein source for solving the
protein-energy-malnutrition problem. The protein content, P. cineraria contains reasonable
amount of ash (5.34%), and ber (20.93%) [33–35]. Chemical composition of pods is varied
between individual trees that it inuenced by a wide range of environmental factors. The
P. cineraria pods have low moisture content (8.55%) that may be advantageous in increasing
of the pods shelf-life, 18% protein, 1.89% oil, 5.34% ash and 20.93% ber . The P. cineraria
seed contains 10.6% oil, 28.6% of the oil are saturated fay esters, 68.3% are unsaturated fay
esters, and 3.1% are methyl hydroxy fay ester. Moreover, the seed oil is rich in oleic acid
(31.3%) along with linoleic acid (32.1%). Oil and seeds of P. cineraria show an absence of keto,
cyclopropenoid, and epoxy fay acids or any evidence for the presence of trans-unsaturation
or the presence of conjugation. In addition, the tree leaves have a good source of macro miner-
als as calcium (2.43%), phosphorus (0.16%) and potassium (0.41%). So, it can be used as good
food during the mineral decient periods .
Legume Seed Nutraceutical Research4
Besides the ecological value of P. cineraria tree, there are signicant utilizations centered on
its use for human food, animal feeds, medical purposes and many other applications. The
multipurpose and added value usages of P. cineraria tree; barks, pods, and leaves; will be
discussed with regards to its health benets and nutraceutical eects as follow:
6.1. Human nutrition/food application
P. cineraria tree are extensively used as human food in many area especially arid land region
and semi-desert as Arizona, India, California, South America and northwestern Mexico.
There are diverse uses of the P. cineraria tree parts; dried and undried pods, green and dry
leaves, and seeds; in human food. It is interesting to note that studies did not refer to the
presence of cyanogenic or toxic compounds in Prosopis parts as seeds or pods till now [37–39].
The P. cineraria food applications include:
Leguminous Prosopis trees play a great role in feeding human in dry area to prevent protein
and mineral deciency especially during famine period. In these area, people used to eat
unripe green pods of P. cineraria that selling in their market as vegetables and children eat its
ripe fruits [2, 33, 40, 41]. In addition, green and unripe pods are also used in the preparation
of pickles and curries .
The Prosopis pods consist of three parts, mesocarp (56% of the pod) that grind to produce
our, endocarp (35%) that discard as waste alongside seeds (9%). People used the our to
make bread, cake, chapai by mixing with wheat our and sweets . The Prosopis our con-
tains a high level of proteins (62%), dietary ber (25%) and low content of total carbohydrate
and fat in addition to dominant amounts of free polyphenol and carotenoids compounds as
shown in Table 1 . Prosopis our is gluten-free, and a premium source of calcium, potas-
sium, magnesium, zinc, and iron, in addition to amino acids such as lysine that is low in
other cereals [11, 43]. Prosopis our has a unique combination taste that has been variously
described as; sweet or slightly nuy, with a sweet chocolate or coee avor, with a pleasant
hint of caramel or molasses, with a hint of cinnamon as it contains many volatile components,
i.e., γ-nonalactone, 5,6-dihydro-6-propyl-2H-pyran-2-one, 2,6-dimethylpyrazine, and methyl
salicylate . Therefore, only 10 to 25% our is generally used in combination with other
ours because above than 25%, the taste becomes too strong for most palate. While, the desir-
able degree of browning for dierent bakery products was obtained using dierent adding
concentration, i.e., biscuits (5%), breads (10%), pancakes (15%) and chapai (50%).
The dried pods are used to make our after collecting pods directly from the tree or from
pods that have recently fallen to the ground. Sometimes they store the dried pods to provide
food year round. The our particle size is varied depending on the grinding processing,
Prosopis cineraria as an Unconventional Legumes, Nutrition and Health Benefits 5
e.g., pounded using pestle and mortar produces coarse powder, while using stone grinding
produces a ne powder.
The Prosopis our assist the diabetic patient through helping maintain a healthy insulin sys-
tem in those people not aected by blood sugar troubles because of two reasons: rstly, the
Prosopis our requires a longer time to be digested compared with other grains, i.e., it needs
4 to 6 hours compared to 1 to 2 hours needs for wheat our to be digest. This help to sustains
constant blood sugar over time and prevents hunger. Secondly, the pods contain fructose,
which the body can process without insulin .
6.1.3. Syrup and drinks
In many places, the Prosopis species are used to make fermented, non-fermented beverages,
and syrup [46–50]. Nutritious syrup is produced by boiling the clean green pods in water after
breaking them into small pieces. Beans should be simmered for 2 hours with continuous add-
ing a small amount of water to avoid burning. Followed by mashing the pods to release more
of the sweet pulp with simmering for further few minutes. The juice then sieved through
strain and kept in clean containers to be used directly as a drink. Or more sugar can be added
to the juice and boil to produce unique avor syrup .
In addition to the previous uses, amber colored gum is produced from the P. cineraria tree. This
gum has similar properties to the gum produced from acacia tree . Its exudate gum is liq-
uid, water soluble and slowly hardening. Moreover, this genus is not the only source of gum. A
galactomannan types interesting gum that called vinal gum is produced from P. ruscifolia .
6.2. Animal nutrition
P. cineraria is an important feed species under traditional livestock production systems in the
arid regions. Leaves and pods are highly palatable, nutritious and eaten readily by camels,
cale, sheep and goats.
Compounds Prosopis our Plain white wheat our
Energy (kcal/100 g) 361 338
Carbohydrate (g/100 g) 69.2 72.2
Total sugars (g/100 g) 13.0 1.5
Fiber (g/100 g) 47.8 3.2
Protein (g/100 g) 16.2 9.4
Fat content (g/100 g) 2.12 1.3
Saturated fay acids (g/100 g) 0.6 0.2
Table 1. Nutritional values of Prosopis our compared with plain white wheat our.
Legume Seed Nutraceutical Research6
The leaves contained 12.1% crude protein, 20.1% crude ber, 3.2% ether extract and 12.2%
ash . The ripened pods contained 91% dry maer, 13.5% crude protein, 14.3% crude ber,
1.3% ether extract and 5.2% ash . Feeding P. cineraria to sheep did not cause overt health
problems such as diarrhea or impaction. Though, it is not advisable to use leaves as a sole
feed for animal as it contain 8–10% tannins . Increasing Prosopis tannin in the diet reduce
animal intake, digestibility of nutrients and body weight gain in sheep [54, 56] and goats .
In general goat showed superior eciency in utilizing P. cineraria leaves than that in sheep
. However, feeding Prosopis tannin at 23 and 45 g/kg dry maer in the ration of lambs
and kids can achieve maximum microbial protein synthesis under intensive feeding system.
Beyond this level, Prosopis tannins will have anti-nutritional eects .
6.3. Health benets
Despite the economic importance of Prosopis spp. as food, plants have been used in tradi-
tional medicine to treat various human ailments since ancient history. Prosopis spp. is one of
these plants that possess many medicinal properties and used to cure many diseases. Studies
showed that leaves and seeds were largely used to treat many diseases such as diarrhea,
inammation, measles, diabetes and prostate disorders [4, 5].
The pods of P. cineraria contain alkaloids (good anesthetic and spasmolytic activity), Saponin
(boost immunity system of the body, lowering the cholesterol level in the body and reduc-
ing the risk of intestinal cancer), and tannins (produce anthelmintic activity). In addition
to the mineral content as zinc (relevant to the nutritional aspect as zinc supplementation in
diabetes mellitus have antioxidant eect), magnesium (important for proper functioning of
every organ like heart, muscle, and kidney), iron (used in anemia, tuberculosis and growth
disorder), calcium and phosphorous (useful for the bone, teeth, and ligament related dis-
order) [17, 60].
Moreover, studies show that the alkaloid mixture of P. cineraria in a dose of 1 mg/kg decreased
the blood pressure and immediate mortality of dogs. In contrast, extensive damage to the
liver, spleen, kidney, lung, and heart was observed on histological examination of mice given
the same alkaloid mixture .
6.3.1. Antimicrobial activity
Studies show that the methanolic extract of Prosopis pods has antimicrobial activity against
Candida albicans . And the aqueous and methanolic extracts of stem bark have moderate
antibacterial activity at a dose of 250 μg/ml. In addition to the previous eects, the methanolic
extract shows signicant action on all pathogens. This antibacterial activity of Prosopis spp. is
due to the presence of avonoids and tannins .
6.3.2. Antihyperglycemic (antidiabetic) and antioxidant activities
Many researchers illustrated that the bark extract of the P. cineraria have abundant activity
in lowering blood sugar level by 27.3%, in addition, to signicant decrease in body weight
(29.6%) in diabetic rats when a dose of 300 mg/Kg mice body weight are given orally in daily
Prosopis cineraria as an Unconventional Legumes, Nutrition and Health Benefits 7
base for 45 days [6, 64] explained the eect of the Prosopis extracts is due to activate the surviv-
ing of the β cells of the islets of langerhans and producing an insulinogenic eect.
6.3.3. Antihypercholesterolemic activity
The 70% hydroalcoholic bark extract dose of 500 mg/Kg BW of albino male New Zealand
white rabbits reduced signicantly the serum total cholesterol by 88%, LDL-C by 95%, tri-
glyceride by 59%, VLDL-C by 60% and ischemic indices compared to hypercholesterolemic
6.3.4. Antitumor activities
A study on P. cineraria illustrated that a dose of 200 and 400 mg/Kg BW of hydroalcoholic
extract of leaves and bark have a signicant antitumor activity against Ehrlich ascites carci-
noma tumor model. In addition, the methanolic extract of the P. cineraria leaves shows signi-
cant radical scavenging activity. This eect is due to the inhibition of cell proliferation even
through inducing the cell death and/or extending the time for cell proliferation .
6.3.5. Antidepressant eect
Studies show that aqueous extract of the P. cineraria leaves have a signicant antidepressant
eect on mice and a similar eect of the antidepressant drugs. This is due to the presence
of some phytochemicals as saponins, avonoids, glycosides, alkaloids, and phenolic com-
pounds in these extracts .
6.3.6. Toxicity studies
Toxicity eect of 50% Hydroalcoholic extracts of Prosopis (at dose ranged between 50 and
2000 mg/Kg BW) through oral route of rats did not show any signicant eects in breathing,
behavior, sensory nervous system responses, cutaneous eects or had any mortality recorded
within 24 h after treatments . Further studies are required to determine the toxicity eects
of the Prosopis extracts that might show adverse eects when consumed because it contains
piperidine alkaloids .
6.4. Other uses
These are not the only uses of the P. cineraria tree. The good bark considered a good source of
woods that can be used to make tool handles, boat frames, posts, and houses. While the poor
or bad quality bark can be used as timber . In India; especially in the Punjab region; the
purplish brown bark used as fuel, rewood and used to produce high-quality charcoal. Leaf
galls of P. cineraria tree can be used also for tanning. While, leaves can be used as a source
of compost on the agricultural eld and owers are considered a good source for honey bee
forage. The produced honey is light yellow with pleasant taste and slight aroma and generally
of good quality .
Legume Seed Nutraceutical Research8
There are few studies on the chemistry and bioactive compounds of Prosopis species have
been published recently. Studies referred to the secondary metabolites compounds in plants
that are considered bioactive compounds and has diverse antinutritional and nutraceutical
features. Therefore, it can be potential as a source of bioactive products and used in func-
tional products. Refs. [61, 84–86] mentioned that Prosopis spp. tree generally contains various
phytochemical compounds as tannins, 5-hydroxytryptamine, isorhamnetin-3-diglucoside,
L-arabinose, quercetin, apigenin, and tryptamine. Studies conducted on phytochemical com-
pounds of P. cineraria showed that each part of the plant contains dierent types of these
compounds (Tables 2 and 3).
Plant part Chemical constituent present Medicinal eect
Flowers Patuletin glycoside patulitrin, luteolin and
rutin sitosterol, and spicigerine.
Flavone derivatives Prosogerin A and
-Flowers are known as an anti-diabetic agent.
-Flowers can be mixed with sugar when administered orally
-It contains Patulitrin3, 5, 6, 3, 4-pentamethoxy-7-hydroxy
avone which has signicant activity against Lewis lung
carcinoma in vivo.
References: [70, 71]
Leaves -Alkaloid: spicigerine
-Steroids: campesterol, cholesterol,
sitosterol, stigmasterol, actacosanol
-Alcohol: octacosanal, triacontane-1-ol,
-Alkane: hentriacontane, Diisopropyl-10,11-
References: [6, 72–76]
-Leaf paste of P. cineraria is applied on boils and blisters,
including mouth ulcers in livestock and leaf infusion on
open sores on the skin
-Smoke of the leaves is considered good for eye troubles and
References: [72, 77–80]
Seeds Prosogerin C, Prosogerin D, Prosogerin E,
gallic acid, patuletin, patulitrin, luteolin,
acid, maslinic acid-3 glucoside, linoleic
acid, prosophylline, 5,5′-oxybis-1,3-
acid 2-hydroxyethyl ester and
-Dry pods help in preventing protein calorie malnutrition
and iron calcium deciency in blood.
References: [3, 64]
Barks Hexacosan-25-on-l-ol, a new keto alcohol
along with ombuin and a triterpenoid
glycoside.vitamin K1, n-octacosyl acetate,
the long-chain aliphatic acid.
Presence of glucose, rhamnose, sucrose
-Bark used in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, dysentery,
leucoderma, leprosy, muscle tremors and piles.
-Dierent extracts of stem bark possessed a weak
Table 2. Phytochemical constituents of the Prosopis cineraria.
Prosopis cineraria as an Unconventional Legumes, Nutrition and Health Benefits 9
Phytochemicals Plant parts
Flower Leaf Pod Seed Stem
Aqueous Ethanol Aqueous Ethanol Aqueous Ethanol Aqueous Ethanol Aqueous Ethanol
Carbohydrates + + — — +++ +++ + + — —
Proteins — — + + ++ ++ + + — —
Tannin — — + + + + + + — —
Flavonoids ++ +++ + + + ++ ++ ++ + —
Cardia glycoside — — — — + + — — — —
Alkaloids ++ ++ ++ ++ ++ ++ ++ + — —
Terpenes — — + + + + + ++ + +
Steroids + + +++ +++ — — + ++ — —
+; low concentration, ++; moderate concentration, +++; high concentration, −; absent.
Table 3. Concentration of phytochemicals of dierent parts of Prosopis cineraria among dierent solvents (water and ethanol extracts) .
Legume Seed Nutraceutical Research10
P. cineraria is a naturalized constituent of many natural and cultivated ecosystems in the world.
Its value, however, lies not only in its ability to thrive under adverse conditions, but also it pro-
vide wide range of useful product. In this unifying review, it was shown the morphological trait,
ecological and economical importance in addition to the nutritional value and health benets.
The authors tried to drag the aention toward this signicant tree as alternative type for the
traditional legumes and possibility to use it as a source of protein in free-gluten products and
functional foods which can be added value in food product development.
Future eorts are required to be focus on integrated management of P. cineraria in their natu-
ral ecosystem and implement environmental conservation strategies for achieving sustain-
able uses and maintain its benets to livelihood and coming generation.
Authors would like to thank Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, UAE.
Conict of interest
The authors declare that there are no conicts of interest regarding the publication of this
Hanan Sobhy Amin A* and Ihsan Abu Al-rub
*Address all correspondence to: email@example.com
Research and Development, Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, Abu Dhabi, UAE
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