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Aberdeen scientists pioneer new superfood

L-R Dr Alan Rowe & Professor Wendy Russell from Rowett Institute.
L-R Dr Alan Rowe & Professor Wendy Russell from Rowett Institute.

Scientists from Aberdeen University’s Rowett Institute have pioneered a process to turn a terrible-tasting health product into a much more palatable superfood.

The moringa plant – which contains natural proteins, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins – has been used for centuries in developing countries to combat health conditions such as malnutrition.

However, the powdered leaf of the moringa has a bitter, unpleasant taste and “pungent” smell.

Moringa seeds, powder & pods. Photo Shutterstock

Victor Thomson and Gary Walker, directors of the company behind the product Africa Growing,  experienced the health benefits of the plant during a trip to Malawi and were inspired to develop its potential.

They believed if something could be done with the taste then it could be incorporated into everyone’s day to day diet.

They set up AG in 2014 to explore the potential opportunities and started working with the Rowett to make their dream a reality.

The result is Sciiona, the first patented moringa product using a micro-coating process to be made in the UK.

A total of £730,000 has been invested in developing the product during the past five years.

Coating prevents harsh acid

The patented micro-coating process sees each granule covered in edible vegetable cellulose that protects it from the harsh acid found in the stomach, as well as alleviating the bitter taste associated with raw moringa.

Sciiona product

Professor Wendy Russell and Dr Madalina Neacsu, a food technologist, were responsible for the patented product development and were supported by Dr Alan Rowe, food and drink industry specialist, who retired from the institute in 2020.

Super nourishment for the immune system

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council awarded £480,000 of funding and a further £250,000 was spent on research and development, proof of concept, and commercialisation costs.

Prof Russell said the cause of the plant’s unpleasant taste was also what made it healthy.

Moringa is an excellent source of isothiocyanates, which is also found in other pungent cruciferious vegetables such as cabbage and mustard greens.

Prof Wendy Russell. Picture by KAMI THOMSON .

She said: “Raw moringa leaf powder has a pungent smell and unpleasant taste.

“This is attributed to the formation of isothiocyanates.

“These compounds are considered beneficial for health, so we do not want to
degrade or remove them. Therefore, we have designed a micro-coated product which has no bitter taste and retains all the benefits.

“Isothiocyanates present in moringa have health benefits. Our patented process reduces the release of isothiocyanates in the mouth but retains them, making them available for absorption elsewhere in the digestive system.”

Proceeds to help children in Malawi

A 100g packet of the powder is on sale for £26.50 and the company advises sprinkling two teaspoons per day on food for an average adult.

Proceeds of Sciiona purchased will help support malnourished children in Malawi via the National Association of Business Women.

 

Dr Alan Rowe of Rowett Institute

Mr Rowe said: “It is particularly exciting to bring a new product like Sciiona to market, especially as it’s backed by science.

“Sciiona helps deliver the benefits of superior nourishment to your immune system which is key to maintaining a healthy life.

“Not only will this product help bring the benefits of moringa to a wider range of consumers, but some of the funds generated will be used to help alleviate child malnourishment in Malawi.”

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