“From the beginning we decided to source our papaya leaf and papaya fruit from the best papaya we could find, and we thought that was the non GMO, organic papaya,” Jessica Oren, brand and marketing manager for Herbal Papaya told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We are not organic certified yet; it’s long process, especially in Africa, and we get our leaf from Nigeria,” she said. (The company sources its fruit pulp from plantations in India.)
Modifying genes to fight disease
Genetic modification of papaya came to the fore in Hawaii starting in the 1980s as an attempt to deal with a disease, papaya ringspot virus, that had wiped out papaya production on Oahu. Production subsequently moved to the Big Island (relocation of plantations has been one of the common way to deal with infection.) The virus followed, and had pretty much ended commercial production of papaya in Hawaii before disease-resistant transgenic varieties were introduced in the early 1990s. In this case, the GMO strategy was pursued not by an agribusiness giant, but by growers in concert with the University of Hawaii.
Nevertheless, Herbal Papaya cleaves to the line that GMO is not the way to go.
“I think hybridization would be a better choice. Our company is not a supporter of genetically modifying things in the lab,” Oren said.
“There are certain plants out there that are suffering because the bugs and the weeds are becoming immune and they have to keep changing the recipe. Once you start on that train there is no stopping,” she said.
The company’s commitment to the one source of ingredients came from the personal experience of the company’s founder and vice president of product development, Unoma Okodrafor, PhD.
“She was born and raised in Nigeria and grew up from papaya trees that grew in her backyard. There was strong link to papaya being a healthy food source,” Oren said.
Papaya has a long history of use as a health tonic and digestive aid. It contains the enzyme papain, which has been used as a meat tenderizer, as it breaks down protein bonds. And the enzyme has been the subject of research for its effects on a wide variety of health conditions, including supporting the immune system. But regulations limit what the company can say about the products, regardless of what they might believe, Oren said.
“We promote it as a superfruit. We just have to say that it is healthy for you and we mention the vitamins and nutrients found in it and the high amount of vitamin C,” she said.
Herbal Papaya launched in 2010 with an extract product, Oren said. The company’s products can now be found in GNC stores. The Expo West launch features the unveiling of the full product line, which includes a wellness drink, three teas that include mint and rooibos, supplements and a liquid extract.
Part of the company’s mission is to support the communities in which it sources products. A portion of profits are donated to the WAAW Foundation, founded by Okarafor, which supports math and science education for African girls.