Green tea, blueberries, acai berries, goji berries, pomegranate, salmon, beets, and quinoa (the list goes on) have all been labeled “superfoods” for their health benefits. Perhaps the only food on this list not available at your supermarket is moringa, but that’s about to change.
Oakland-based social enterprise Kuli Kuli has created a snack bar with moringa, a multipurpose tree also known as “horseradish tree” for the flavour of its roots and “mother’s best friend” for its nutritional value.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 25 grams of moringa leaf powder is enough to supply a child with the daily needs of calcium and vitamin A, about half the daily needs of protein and potassium, and about three-quarters of the daily needs of iron. None of the nutrition is wasted – moringa flowers and pods are cooked in many dishes and its seeds are boiled, sautéed, or fried.
“Moringa is one of the most nutritious plants in the world and grows naturally in many areas that suffer from malnutrition but is currently underutilized,” said founder Lisa Curtis, who recently left Mosaic to continue expanding Kuli Kuli. “I discovered moringa while serving in the Peace Corps three years ago and started Kuli Kuli to support women’s cooperatives in West Africa to grow and earn a livelihood from moringa by selling moringa-based nutritional bars in the U.S.”
Having carried out a successful Indiegogo campaign to do their first major manufacturing run, Kuli Kuli has shipped out 9,000 bars this week and 1,000 moringa seeds promised to the first thousand customers so that they can grow their own trees.
“It grows quite quickly and is not invasive,” said Stephanie Velegol, researcher at the The Pennsylvania State University. “Moringa will grow in locations where it does not stay wet and does not freeze. It grows quite well in equatorial regions and will do fine in the wet season if it is in well-drained soil.”
Velegol is part of a team that has been studying the use of moringa seeds as a natural water clarifier – another one of moringa’s many functions. The seeds contain about 30 to 40 percent oil, called ben or behen oil, which has been used for centuries as cooking oil and has a scent like fresh leaves.
In India where the plant originates, moringa has been used to prevent diseases and treat assorted ailments. It has moved to Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, and most other warm climates.
But even today, moringa hasn’t reached quite the popularity of other superfoods. Previously it was argued that some of the reasons contributing to this are the lack of extensive research, lack of awareness, and skepticism among the scientific community. Early research has discovered that the seeds contain lectin, a protein commonly found in soybeans, grains, potatoes, dairy foods, and vegetables that can interfere with nutrient digestion. Certain people may not be able to tolerate the food.
Still, while we continue to understand the tree, what’s clear is that moringa can provide communities with a homegrown solution (literally) to sources of income, nutrition, and environmental stability – and many places need it.
Photo from Kuli Kuli.
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