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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Magic of moringa: the superfood where nothing goes to waste 

Global Wellness Day is the perfect opportunity to try the latest superfood causing a culinary stir

Moringa drumsticks have traditionally been used in curries and stews across Thailand, the Philippines and India. Getty 
Moringa drumsticks have traditionally been used in curries and stews across Thailand, the Philippines and India. Getty 

If moringa is yet to slip onto your radar, then it may be time to swot up on the plant that’s taking the foodie and beauty worlds by storm this year.

Moringa oleifera, to give it its Latin name – or the drumstick tree, as it’s more colloquially known – is a heat-loving tree that flourishes in semi-arid conditions. It originates from the foothills of the Himalayas and north-western India, North Africa and South East Asia, but moringa is now grown in tropical and subtropical climates all over the world, and it’s very much in demand.

“Moringa seeds have a high concentration of oil,” says nutritionist Zenia Menon of Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre. “These are extracted to make moringa, which yields more oil than sunflower and peanuts. It can be used in cooking or moringa-seed oil can be used directly on the skin to help retain skin’s moisture,” she says.

Where you've seen it

You might well have spotted it highlighted as a key ingredient in your shampoo (Herbal Essences’ Bio:Renew shampoo and conditioner is “powered” by moringa) or on your new moisturiser (The Body Shop’s Moringa Butter Moisturiser is one to try). Nicknamed “The Tree of Life” owing to its powerful, nourishing and moisturising effect on the skin, moringa can be applied as a tonic or consumed, and nutritionists such as Menon are touting it as the ultimate superfood all-rounder to include in your daily diet.

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Trend forecasters such as Spins might have pinned 2018 for moringa to have its moment, but this nutrient-dense superfood-of-the-year established its healing roots way ahead of the curve. “The moringa leaves have often been used in ancient medicine and they are a powerhouse of nutrients,” Menon says of the small, abundant leaves found on the fine branches of the moringa tree. Because it grows quickly and at a relatively low cost, moringa has been the go-to vegetable for many parts of the developing world. Even dry, the leaves are packed with vitamins and minerals, making it ideal for feeding programmes to fight malnutrition.

In cooking, the drumsticks (or green pods) have traditionally been used in curries and stews across Thailand, the Philippines and India. There’s a good chance that the sambar or Keralan thoran salad you enjoyed so much on holiday in India had a hefty dose of moringa chopped or grated into it. Every last part of the moringa tree can be and has been put to good use. After the vegetables of the tree are used in stews and the seeds pressed to obtain the oil that fortifies moisture-boosting skin products, the leftover seed cake has been used as a water purifier, too.

The health benefits

According to moringa farmer Mariko Gifford, gram for gram, the plant’s leaves contain a whopping seven times the vitamin C of oranges, four times the calcium and two times the protein of milk, four times the vitamin A of carrots, three times the iron in spinach and three times the potassium of bananas. Taking all of this information into account, it’s not surprising that including a helping of moringa in your diet could defend your body against a lengthy list of unwanted ailments.

Menon cites it as a food that can prevent diabetes, heart diseases, anaemia, arthritis and liver disease, plus respiratory, skin, and digestive disorders. Added to this, “it has natural detoxifying properties and contains anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants that fight free radicals that cause oxidative stress and cell damage” (making it the perfect anti-ageing cream ingredient). Balancing hormones, reducing the effects of ageing, fighting fungal infection, treating anxiety and protecting brain health are also included in the broad arsenal of benefits listed by Menon.

Used increasingly in moisturising creams and other beauty products, moringa extract could also help prevent nasty breakouts. “The leaves contain natural antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral compounds that protect the skin from various infections, and reduce the inflammations associated with acne breakouts,” Menon says, explaining that the leaves of the moringa are the most potent parts of the plant, containing the most antioxidants.

Where to find it in the UAE

As well as the benefits of direct moringa consumption, the plant can also be used in farming and food production as an alternative to toxic fertilisers or unnatural hormones. “It’s feeding the world in a way that doesn’t introduce toxicity,” says Gifford, who is behind the Moringa For Life website. The farmer extols the plant for its positive results when applied to farming and general crop production. “It improves milk production and weight gain in cattle, and it can be diluted and then sprayed onto plants as a plant enhancer,” she says. If your vegetable patch or microgreens are looking a little wilted and sad, it might be time to give them a spritz of moringa to revive and revitalise.

The drought-resistant tree can be grown from sapling in weather conditions such as those found in the UAE. Getty 
The drought-resistant tree can be grown from sapling in weather conditions such as those found in the UAE. Getty 

If after reading this you’re keen to work the magic of moringa into your own diet, lifestyle or beauty regime, you can get your hands on it in a number of forms. Choose moringa powder (look for it in Carrefour, Neal’s Yard Remedies and the Ripe Farm Shop) for an easy dose of the superfood that can be sprinkled into a soup, curry or stew – or slot it into your daily routine and brew yourself a moringa tea every morning. Menon advises having a half-teaspoon of moringa powder, a half-teaspoon of honey and a squeeze of lemon in hot water as a post-breakfast drink. Don’t overdo it, though, because it does have a laxative effect if consumed in high quantities. Go one step further and grow your own tree for fresh leaves to steam like spinach or toss into a salad, as well as fresh moringa drumsticks to add to your cooking.

The drought-resistant moringa lends itself to sweltering conditions. Sri Lankan national Ram Pillai has even grown a large moringa tree from sapling in his Dubai garden. “We add the leaves to our morning smoothie and once again cook the vegetable seed pods on a weekly basis,” he says. You can also find fresh leaves from the UAE’s Deena Farms organic farming community, for an instant supply before your moringa sapling turns into your own tree of life.