This nutritious plant has actually been around for a while—and is used regularly in several South Asian cuisines. If you're looking to get the most benefit, skip the supplements, and cook with it.
If you like to read health or wellness publications, chances are you've at least heard of Moringa. The South Asian tree's many edible parts have caught on in the West over the last few years, as people have touted substantial anti-inflammatory properties, cardiovascular benefits and a host of other health claims.
But I knew it first as something I hated to eat.
Every kid has that vegetable they push around their dinner plate for way too long, hoping they can spread it around enough to look done with dinner. For me, it was moringa.
As an adult however, I’ve started appreciating the earthy sweetness and flavor the vegetable adds to simple soups and gravies. Though I haven't eaten them much myself, the leaves are also edible, and used in a number of dishes. So, while moringa supplements, powders and pills explode onto the Western wellness market, I’m still attached to the frozen vegetables that my mom used to stock our freezer, and the cup of sambar I still eat whenever I get to have a dosa.
How Healthy Is Moringa?
According to Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, who wrote about the nutritional benefits in Health magazine, moringa leaves are high in protein and substantial sources of Vitamins A, B, and C. They also have higher levels of calcium, iron, and potassium than found in other vegetables and fruits.
A cup of freshly chopped moringa leaves contain 2g of protein, 19% dv of Vitamin B6, 12% dv of Vitamin C, and 11% dv of iron and Vitamin B2, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The seed pods are also high in vitamin C and are a good source of fiber, potassium, and other minerals.
How to Cook With It
In powdered form, moringa is versatile enough to be added to both sweet and savory dishes. It’s bright green with an earthy bitterness similar to green tea matcha powder—though some also describe it as “nutty” or “spinach-like.” You can blend it into shakes and smoothies, stir it into your morning oatmeal, fold it into muffin or quick bread batters, or steep it on its own as a tea.
Moringa powder can be found online, at a well-stocked health foods store, or at vitamin and supplement stores. You’ll need to store it in a cool, dry place to prevent caking and clumping.
Moringa leaves need to be fully cooked before serving (generally you boil them until tender), but after that they can easily be tossed into recipes the same way you would any other leafy green. They make a great addition to soups and stews like our Slow Cooker Creamy Lentil Soup or Onion, Kale, Chickpea, and Chicken Soup. But they can also be kneaded into dough for flatbreads, or braised with spices and aromatics for a healthy side dish.
To balance the slight bitterness of the leaves, I recommend adding a little acid or sweetness the same way you would when preparing cooked kale or collard greens.
South Asian dishes with moringa leaves often include tangy-sweet tamarind paste or sour raw mango powder called amchoor for this reason, and in the popular Filipino chicken-and-moringa stew, Tinolang Manok, green papaya provides just the right amount of fruity acidity to this comfort food. If you’re ready to give leaves a try, your local Asian or African grocer may sell them fresh in the produce section or packaged in the freezer aisle.
Fresh moringa pods can be tricky to come by. The longer they sit on shelves, the more woody and fibrous they become. Instead, look for packages of precut moringa in the freezer section of your local international grocer. You may also find moringa pods by some of the plant's other common names: drumstick, sahjan, or malunggay.
To cook, add cut moringa pods to soups, stews, gravies, stir-fries—they're endlessly versatile, and are prepared the same way you would okra or green beans. South Indian sambar and Thai kaeng som are spicy soups that traditionally include moringa pods. Because of their earthier flavor, moringa tastes best when paired with hot, spicy, and tangy flavors.
Additional Reporting by Zee Krstic.