Chefs are waking up to the power of Moringa

Superfoods are as common as Avengers these days. The good guys of the kitchen include cholesterol-zapping oats, almonds that tackle heart disease, and chia seeds to deliver a roundhouse to diabetes. Moringa, however, is a more powerful hero than most. Its small, tender leaves contain all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete source of protein. It’s also rich in iron, vitamin B6, and potassium.

Originally hailing from northern India and the Himalayas, the fast-growing, drought-resistant tree is now cultivated from West Africa to Mexico for communities that struggle for food resources. The seeds can also be pressed to make a moisturizing, anti-inflammatory oil that’s becoming a staple for vitamin-rich face balms, shampoos, and deodorants.

But moringa is making the most noise at the table. Its vegetal taste is a little like spinach mixed with matcha; in the U.S., it’s mostly found in powdered form because the leaves are too delicate to transport long distances. Chefs can use it in dishes to add protein. At Lalito in downtown Manhattan, the powder is sprinkled into $15 chickpea guacamole; uptown, at the Senegalese cafe Teranga, it features in a $5 latte. Health-minded chain Vitality Bowls adds moringa to its VB blend, a key ingredient in the Warrior açai bowl, which also includes granola, bananas, and broccoli.

“Moringa is a staple of many dishes in Senegal,” says Teranga’s chef Pierre Thiam. “As we were developing our African-focused menu, we thought the moringa latte would be perfect. It’s similar to a matcha latte in appearance, and a natural energy boost.”