If you’re the kind of person whose kitchen cupboards are stuffed with packets and jars of powerful powders (macca, hemp, chlorella, acai, kelp, wheatgrass… the list goes on!), you might want to make some space for a job lot of moringa – a product which is made using the dried leaves of the mighty Moringa Oleifera tree. Unless you’re lucky enough to be able to get hold of some fresh moringa, that is.
Also known as the Ben Nut Tree, Indian Horseradish, Mulungay, and the Drumstick Tree (to list just a few of the names), this rather average-looking species conceals an extraordinary amount of nutrients in its roots, seeds, seed pods, and leaves – all of which can be eaten either raw, dried, or cooked.
Check out the nutritional value of this stuff!
Data provided by the United States National Nutrient Database shows that 100 grams of raw moringa leaves (the equivalent to approximately 14 grams, or two tablespoons, of moringa powder) provides a huge dose of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for 15 different vitamins and minerals, including B6 (92%), C (62%) and B2 (55%), magnesium (41%) and iron (31%).
Or, as one tree-planting charity puts it, on a gram-for-gram basis, the leaves of the humble moringa tree contain seven times as much vitamin C as oranges, four times the calcium of milk, three times the potassium of bananas, two times the protein of yogurt, and four times the vitamin A of carrots!
As a source of protein, moringa is ideal for vegetarians and vegans, who usually have to combine various foods in order to give their bodies the “complete” protein found in meat. That’s because unlike most other plants, moringa leaves contain a good amount of all the essential amino acids for building the proteins we need to survive!
Desperately seeking science…
With so much goodness in moringa, it’s hardly surprising that it’s often recommended for treating or alleviating various ailments and diseases. Commonly listed conditions include diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, iron deficiency, and even cancer. However, while the nutritional value of moringa is undeniable, there’s a distinct lack of strong scientific evidence for the health claims that have been made – a fact that this study by John Hopkins University seeks to change.
Moringa as a force for good
For all the reasons above, moringa plays a central role in the work of organisations like Church World Service, whose aim is to combat malnutrition in the developing world. Another reason moringa is used by charities working in areas where starvation is all too common is that it grows easily in those same places. Moringa trees thrive in the arid, sandy conditions that are characteristic of many parts of the tropics and sub-tropics – factors that prevent many other plants and crops from growing successfully.
As well as feeding people, the moringa tree provides a source of income, with it being both cheap and easy to grow. Many of the producers who are selling to an international market dry the leaves to make a powder, which is easier to export and the best way of retaining nutrients. This is good news all around because it creates income for them whilst making it possible for people who don’t live in the places where it grows to benefit from its goodness, too.
How to use moringa in food
Where the moringa tree grows, people use its young green pods (known as drumsticks) in much the same way as green beans. More mature seeds are taken out of their pods and either cooked or roasted. It’s also possible to eat the roots (which are said to taste like horseradish), press oil from the seeds, and eat the tree’s flowers. When the leaves aren’t being dried and turned into powder, they’re used like spinach.
If you can only get your hands on the powdered variety, there are endless ways to add it to your diet. Anything with a liquid base tends to work well, so soups, stews, and smoothies are all good. Or you can use it as a condiment, sprinkled over your favorite dishes. If you prefer to get your vitamins and minerals first thing in the morning, try mixing a teaspoon into some yogurt before adding some fresh fruit and museli.