Moringa: Superfood Fact or Fiction?

Medically reviewed by Steven Kim, MD on January 13, 2016Written by Elea Carey

moringa leaves

Kale, goji berries, seaweed, walnuts. Think you know all the so-called superfoods? There’s a new kid in town: moringa.

Moringa oleifera is a tree that’s native to parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, and is also cultivated in Central America and parts of Africa. It’s sometimes called the drumstick tree because of the shape of its long seed pods. Moringa trees grow quickly and don’t need much water, which makes them easy to cultivate.

Virtually every part of them is edible — the leaves, roots, immature seed pods, flowers, and seeds. The oil crushed from the seeds, called ben oil, can be used in cooking and for the skin and hair. Once the oil has been extracted, the seed hulls can be used for a water purification process called flocculation. Some edible parts of the tree can be harvested within the first year of planting a cutting. Moringa is an important source of nutrition and commerce in the countries where it can be grown. The National Academy of Sciences calls moringa a “living cornucopia” and “possibly the planet’s most valuable undeveloped plant.”

The health benefits of moringa

Several reviews of studies — including one from Texas and another from Pakistan — have piled on even more praise, citing its antiulcer, antioxidant, antihypertensive, and analgesic properties. Researchers say that components of the leaves — namely, the polyphenols, flavonoids, glucosinolates, and alkaloids — have protective effects on the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, and in men, the testes.

Nutritionally speaking, a cup of moringa leaves has nearly 2 grams of protein, and is also a good source of vitamins A and C.

While moringa is not common in U.S. supermarkets, you can often find moringa leaves and pods in specialist groceries like Filipino, Indian, and other Asian markets. If not, they might be good places to order them from.

Now all you need is a few good recipes.

Moringa pods

The long, skinny drumstick-shaped tree pods are best eaten when they are green and young. While their texture is similar to that of green beans, they are said to taste more like asparagus. You could cook them whole, but their length makes them hard to handle in smaller pots. If necessary, cut them down to green bean size, or slice them even further into chunks like sliced okra.

Shrimp curry with moringa pods

This tantalizing shrimp and moringa curry recipe also lets you enjoy the many health benefits of turmeric, which can reduce inflammation and lower blood sugar. Serve this over brown rice to take advantage of the extra fiber that the grain provides.

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Moringa, fish, and vegetable soup

Not as heavy as curry, this eclectic soup features not just moringa, but squash, pumpkin, okra, eggplant, fish, and more! Perfect for an exotic night in.

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Moringa leaves

The leaves are the most commonly eaten part of the moringa. They grow quickly, so they can be harvested regularly. You can use them in any dish that calls for spinach, including raw in salads or on sandwiches.

Moringa leaves in coconut milk

This works well as a starter course. To turn it into a main event, add a dozen peeled and headed shrimp and simmer until they’re fully cooked (they will be pink throughout) before adding the moringa leaves.

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Moringa omelet

This somewhat informal recipe is a reminder that you can enjoy moringa leaves just about any way you want! Add them to a quiche, frittata, or modify this recipe for spinach and artichoke dip. To substitute for the spinach, gently steam 3 cups of moringa leaves, then thoroughly squeeze out the moisture.

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