Some of the first recipes for Coca-Cola were made using the extract of the bitter kola plant. Though the company hasn’t used actual kola to flavor their sodas in years, the name remains a reminder of the unusual plant that inspired the iconic drink.
Bitter kola, also known as bitter cola or Garcinia Kola, is a plant found in Central and Western Africa that has long been valued for its medicinal properties. Although traditional African medicine uses all parts of the Bitter Kola plant, the seeds are mostly commonly eaten.
Bitter kola seeds have a sharp, bitter flavor that eases into a slight sweetness as you chew, and they’re typically eaten raw.
Although bitter kola has been eaten in Africa for years, scientists are just beginning to study the health benefits of this flowering plant.
According to these early studies, bitter kola may be able to help with health problems including:
Bitter kola has been used over the years to fight infections from the common cold to hepatitis. A 2018 study showed that bitter kola can help combat coughs, bacterial infections, and viral infections. Eating bitter kola when an infection starts may help fight the infection and make you feel better more quickly.
Bitter kola seeds have commonly been chewed on in Africa to fight against inflammatory conditions like arthritis. One 2008 study showed that patients with osteoarthritis in their knees showed significantly reduced inflammation when eating bitter kola compared to a placebo. The high levels of potassium in bitter kola may be a contributing factor in reducing inflammation.
Early studies suggest that a chemical called kolaviron, which is found in bitter kola, may protect against hypoglycemia in people with type 2 diabetes. Although this first study was done on rats and has not yet been reproduced on humans, these early findings are promising.
Nutrients per Serving
The FDA considers bitter kola generally safe to eat, but classifies it similarly to essential oils. That means there’s not much information available about serving sizes or nutritional data. However, a 2013 study found that bitter kola was high in the following nutrients:
The study same study also found that bitter kola had high levels of:
- Vitamin C
How to Prepare Bitter Kola
Bitter kola can be eaten on its own, uncooked, like many other nuts. Keep in mind, however, that it’s called “bitter” for a reason. Bitter kola can be an acquired taste.
You can sometimes find drinks made or flavored with bitter kola at African markets and online stores. If you don’t like the taste but want to introduce bitter kola to your diet, these drinks may be a good option.