The Bushmen of the Kalahari may have known about Hoodia for thousands of years, but only in the most recent times has it become familiar to those outside of that notorious desert. At first knowledge of this prized plant only seeped into the global consciousness, but growing media interest quickened the pace of the revelations resulting in Hoodia and its appetite suppressing effect now being renowned all over the world.
The BBC were one of the first major news organisations to report on the Hoodia phenomenon, featuring the Kalahari's now-famous plant in an edition of Correspondent, a news and current affairs programme focusing on reports from around the world. The edition in question was entitled "The Anti-Fat Pill and the Bushmen" and was broadcast on BBC2 on Sunday 1 June 2003.
In the making of this programme, the BBC's Correspondent reporter Tom Mangold travelled to the Kalahari and sampled the appetite suppressing Hoodia plant for himself. This is his experience of encountering Hoodia in his own words:
"In order to see for ourselves, we drove into the desert, four hours north of Capetown in search of the cactus. Once there, we found an unattractive plant which sprouts about 10 tentacles, and is the size of a long cucumber. Each tentacle is covered in spikes which need to be carefully peeled. Inside is a slightly unpleasant-tasting, fleshy plant. At about 1800hrs I ate about half a banana size - and later so did my cameraman. Soon after, we began the four hour drive back to Capetown. The plant is said to have a feel-good almost aphrodisiac quality, and I have to say, we felt good. But more significantly, we did not even think about food. Our brains really were telling us we were full. It was a magnificent deception. Dinner time came and went. We reached our hotel at about midnight and went to bed without food. And the next day, neither of us wanted nor ate breakfast. I ate lunch but without appetite and very little pleasure. Partial then full appetite returned slowly after 24 hours."
More recently, Hoodia was featured on the CBS programme 60 Minutes, the No. 1 rated news magazine in the US, a programme which has been running since 1968, and which is arguably the most successful programme in US television history. In an edition broadcast on Sunday 21 November 2004, a 60 Minutes correspondent, Lesley Stahl, ventured out into the desert looking to find some Hoodia, guided by a Kalahari native by the name of Toppies Kruiper. This is the 60 Minutes programme's own summary of what happened:
Kruiper led 60 Minutes crews out into the desert. Stahl asked him if he ate hoodia. "I really like to eat them when the new rains have come," says Kruiper, speaking through the interpreter. "Then they're really quite delicious." When we located the plant, Kruiper cut off a stalk that looked like a small spiky pickle, and removed the sharp spines. In the interest of science, Stahl ate it. She described the taste as "a little cucumbery in texture, but not bad." So how did it work? Stahl says she had no after effects – no funny taste in her mouth, no queasy stomach, and no racing heart. She also wasn't hungry all day, even when she would normally have a pang around mealtime. And, she also had no desire to eat or drink the entire day. "I'd have to say it did work," says Stahl.
The 60 Minutes programme also reminds us that "although the West is just discovering Hoodia, the Bushmen of the Kalahari have been eating it for a very long time. After all, they have been living off the land in southern Africa for more than 100,000 years."