There are some distinct ingredients that add a unique taste to our cooking, and our favourite dishes become less interesting without them. Drumsticks or moringa (long slender, triangular seed-pods) have great importance in many south Indian delicacies such as sambar, rasam, avial etc. Unlike today, moringa was a lesser known vegetable to north Indian people but in the south we had a tree in every kitchen garden as it was ideal soil to grow a moringa plant. Once the plant grows to a usual height of 6/7 metres, you have regular yield for domestic use and sometimes more to give away.
Kids were taught how to eat these hard-looking, long pieces of drumsticks in our curries: “Gently split them open and separate the creamy flesh with your teeth and enjoy the pleasant flavour”. Along with popularity of south Indian food away from home, like other ingredients, drumsticks too travelled far and wide, yet people wouldn’t like this vegetable until they learn to eat the soft flesh inside and discard the fibrous exterior. Occasionally, people even misunderstand it for okra and chew drumstick for long time and make funny remarks like “dish was very tasty but that okra was under-cooked!”
Later, as healthy eating became a focal point for many, especially in the last decade or so, people discovered other uses of moringa tree. Its leaves are used in daily diet due to its highly nutritious qualities; people are getting used to its slightly sharper taste. Until recently we didn’t know about delicious warm salads made of moringa flowers and they taste amazing too; you can feel lightness as you complete a meal with them. All these dishes were already part of a village meal, especially agro families.
That was only half the story of illustrious moringa family and its use in our food and medicines. Meeting Nanalal Satra in Bengaluru was a pleasant surprise as he started talking about his successful export of moringa oil to Germany. Unfortunately, many of us wouldn’t have even heard of this oil, which has a variety of usage and a tremendous demand in Europe. Purabi Sarkar has done research on moringa oil and travels around spreading benefits of this special oil and we were lucky enough to listen to one of her lectures.
Purabi talked about moringa oil’s rich vitamin and unsaturated fatty acid qualities. It is also used to increase health and strength of hair and scalp. Moringa oil is extracted by pressing the seeds of Moringa oleifera. Countries such as India and Sri Lanka, and Africa produce the best variety, also called Ben oil, which has high amounts of behenic acid. There are so many good qualities and reasons to show the superior demand for moringa oil. No wonder, it was mentioned as a very useful oil in Ayurveda, and the medicinal books of Greece and Rome.
The oil contains antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, which help in curing cuts, bruises, burns, insect bites and rashes. It’s also supposed to be a nice cooking oil owing to its soft, appealing taste, though it’s more expensive than the many others available and subject to availability. Ayurveda doctor Sanand suggests, “Moringa oil is good for people with sleeping disorders, prevents ageing and contains aphrodisiac elements.”
Time and again, it is revealed that simple, wholesome foods like moringa provide incredible balance to our health and happiness. As Purabi insists, “We need to educate people and develop these nature’s remedies for everyday living, with increased demand. It will enhance interest for large-scale production of moringa oil. We have the best quality moringa in our region and ideal weather conditions to cultivate it.” The author runs the London-based Rasa chain of restaurants