What Is Moringa and Why Will Everyone Be Talking About it in 2022?
Chef Pierre Thiam shares ideas for how to incorporate it into lattes, stews, and more.
Every year, a seemingly “new” superfood arises from the book of ancient cure-alls. 2021, I would argue, was the year of the chickpea. It found its way into our pastas, our crusts, and even our cereal. The year before that, it was all about adaptogens, like reishi mushrooms and ashwagandha. But the superfood trend that everyone will be talking about in 2022 is—drum roll, please—moringa.
The Whole Foods Trend Council has released its annual report of food trend predictions for 2022, and the “miracle tree” is one of them. Similarly, global technology research company Technavio reports that the moringa products market is set to grow by 2.85 billion from 2021 to 2025.
Moringa is native to India, though it is grown widely across Africa and Asia. For centuries, people have cultivated the plant for its countless medicinal properties. You’d be hard-pressed to find a health condition it does not alleviate.
“In Senegal, it is believed to have so many properties that we call it ‘never die’—not only because of the impact it has on your health, but also because the leaves of the tree are evergreen,” says Senagalese chef Pierre Thiam.
Moringa can help to treat diabetes, inflammation, infection, joint pain, heart problems, and even cancer. The leaves have seven times more vitamin C than oranges and 15 times more potassium than bananas. The plant is also packed with calcium, protein, iron, amino acids, and antioxidants.
Thiam incorporates moringa in his product line, Yolélé, as a leafy addition to his signature fonio pilaf and chips. At Teranga, his fast casual food chain in Harlem, New York, he dresses salads with a moringa-ginger vinaigrette and also serves moringa-based drinks, like lattes and limeades.
Thiam grew up eating the superfood in Senegal, particularly in his aunt’s thiéré mboum, a stew made of couscous and a moringa and peanut-based sauce. “I love cooking with moringa. It has a slight bitterness to it,” Thiam explains. “So that’s one of the reasons why it’s sometimes mixed with cabbage. That’s how my aunt does it. She blanches the leaves separately and adds them to the stew.”
In Senegal, it’s also common to combine moringa with smoked fish. According to Thiam, you’ll often find fishermen’s wives taking their husband’s smaller catches and cooking them in traditional smoking structures that are built right on the beach. “After the fish is smoked whole, you just use your fingers to crumble it and remove the bones,” Thiam says. “And that crumble is mixed up with the moringa leaf. So the moringa takes on this really smokey, fishy texture and flavor.”
In the U.S., moringa is often found in powdered form, as it has a longer shelf life. The powder is perfect for adding some nutrition to your tea, or like Thiam does, in a latte. “It doesn’t have caffeine like matcha, but it definitely gives you a bit of a kick,” he says. “It digests easily, too, so it’s really a feel-good kind of ingredient.”
To replicate the fresh moringa leaves that are used in Senegal, Thiam suggests combining moringa powder with easily accessible produce—like spinach and kale—so that you get the flavor of moringa and the texture of a leafy green. Or simply add the powder to a stew, as a finishing ingredient.
The desire to incorporate more nutritious foods into our diets is not a new phenomenon, and we’ve seen how the rediscovery of spices like turmeric have dominated the wellness space. But what sets moringa apart, and what will make it an ultra-buzzy ingredient in 2022, is its sustainability.
Because the plant grows abundantly with a very low water requirement, it’s well-suited for combating malnutrition in drought-prone areas. It’s even said to purify water. “We are facing a serious climate crisis,” Thiam says. “And the future of food security is going to be found in crops like moringa that are drought-resistant and nutritious.”