Superfood alert: Could Moringa oleifera be the next baobab?

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

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Moringa oleifera seedpods (picture: Forest & Kim Starr)
Moringa oleifera seedpods (picture: Forest & Kim Starr)
A nutrient powerhouse to rival baobab, Moringa oleifera is starting to attract growing interest in the US dietary supplement and food industry, with a segment due to air on Dr Oz tonight predicted to prompt a surge in demand.

Moringa is not as well-known as baobab, but just as exciting, claims Jim Fitzpatrick, president of Connecticut -based Moringa Source, which has spent several years securing a consistent supply of Moringa leaf powders and seed pod oils for use in finished products under the Moringa Source brand.

The leaves of the Moringa Oleifera plant, which grows in Africa, Asia, southern and central America and Hawaii, produce a rich green – but tart tasting - dry powder that is remarkably high in protein (27% by weight, with all eight essential amino acids), vitamin A, calcium (2g per 100g of dry leaf powder) and vitamin C (17.3mg per 100g).

But they are also high in iron (28mg per 100g), potassium (1.3g per 100g) and B vitamins, Vitamin D, Vitamin E and Vitamin K, he says.

“It is very unusual to find a plant that has this much calcium and protein, as well as all of the antioxidants, phytonutrients minerals and other nutrients.”

Secure and consistent supplies and regulatory status

From a regulatory perspective, Moringa oleifera has been consumed in the US in foods prior to the passage of DSHEA in 1994 and does not need a new dietary ingredient notification for use in supplements, he says. As for foods and beverages, the firm is going through the self-affirmed GRAS process.

“It’s been safely consumed for hundreds of years, but what we’ve been trying to do is bring a level of transparency that will be needed if it is going to move into the mainstream. We are working through the self-affirmed GRAS process.

“We’ve done a lot of nutritional analysis work in ensuring that the product we supply is consistent and meets our standards in terms of the nutritional components as well as testing to ensure it is free of heavy metals, contaminants or adulterants.

“I have seen some samples out in the market that are grey in color or cut or with teas and grass powders. But I think there will be a clearing out process after Dr Oz because people will want to know what they are buying. We can tell them that because we have had the time to get things right - we haven't been under pressure to get a product to market quickly."

While Moringa oleifera leaves have been used in traditional medicine in India and Africa for hundreds of years and are believed to have strong anti-inflammatory qualities, there are not many human intervention studies – yet, says Fitzpatrick.

However, there is a growing number of in vitro and animal studies on the leaves (a PubMed search throws up 232 papers) looking at everything from effects on blood pressure and blood glucose to anti-microbial, cholesterol reduction, hepatoprotection and wound healing. Click here​ for an overview of research areas.

Sourcing and scaling up production

Moringa Source sources its leaves from southern and central America, Africa and India, says Fitzpatrick. “We spent a long time vetting a large number of potential suppliers, starting with analyzing samples and then visiting them.

“But the beauty of it is, now that we have these key suppliers, it is possible to increase production pretty quickly because Moringa is such a fast grower, you can go from seed to harvest in 65-70 days.

“So if demand really takes off after the Dr Oz show, we could double production in a relatively short time.”

Applications and awareness

The leaves are washed, dried at low temperatures and then pulverized into a fine powder that can be added to capsules, teas or powders that can be added to oatmeal, smoothies or nutritional shakes, he says.

“It has a fairly strong taste so you wouldn’t eat the powder on its own.”

To date, Moringa Source’s focus has been on supplying finished products – capsules, teas, powders, protein shales and personal care products – although should demand take off it could move more seriously into supplying the ingredients on a wholesale basis, says Fitzpatrick.

“Demand has grown strongly but steadily in the past two years so we have been able to line up our troops if you like and make sure we have a high quality and consistent product, so that if demand really kickstarts after Dr Oz, we are ready to scale up.”

VP of sales and marketing Paul Taitt added: “If you mapped our sales on a chart, it would already look like an aircraft taking off. But we are very excited about the Dr Oz show, as we are hoping that it will shine a light on this amazing superfood and really cause an explosion in demand.”

Native to the foothills of the Himalayas, Moringa oleifera has rapidly spread around the world’s tropical and sub-tropical climates. While there are about 13 species of Moringa trees in the family Moringaceae, Moringa oleifera is by far the most popular, says Fitzpatrick.

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