Before I get on the autoethnography train, a quick note first on Murungaikkai. In the old country, drumstick is the English word for that. You can, therefore, imagine my confusion when I was fresh off the boat and when I came across chicken drumstick ;)
The vegetable drumstick is from Moringa tree. The New Yorker essay, which is about the moringa as superfood, notes:
In India, where Moringa was first domesticated, two thousand years ago, the pods are commonly used in a popular dish called sambhar, which subdues their flavor in a rich gravy.I never cared for murungaikkai in the sambhar. My favorite though was the dish my mother made with the tender leaves from the moringa tree: முருங்கை இலை பொரிச்ச குழம்பு I drool now thinking about that dish. Food is not merely about calories and nutrition; they are important pieces of the human stories that help me understand my existence.
The New Yorker comments about the moringa leaf:
Its leaves, like cilantro, taste best when removed from their chewy stems, a tedious process when cooking large quantities. Both the leaves and the pods contain an oil that gives them a bold, peppery flavor—like arugula, but stronger—which can be off-putting to some palates.Ah, but when cooked like how my mother does, those leaves are magical elixirs.
The mothers who cooked and served the moringa leaves for their families were treating us to superfood, which is now eagerly sought after by the affluent:
For now, Moringa is gaining more popularity among wealthy, Western superfood enthusiasts than among the underserved populations of the dry tropics. Powdered Moringa leaves have become a trendy ingredient in power bars and smoothies in recent years. “We’re hoping Moringa becomes the new kale,” Lisa Curtis, the twenty-eight-year-old founder of Kuli Kuli, a San Francisco-based company that specializes in Moringa snack bars, powders, and energy shots, told me. The Kuli Kuli Web site, which refers to Moringa alternately as a “miracle tree” and a “supergreen,” states that the plant roundly outperforms kale, with “2 x protein, 4 x calcium, 6 x iron, 1.5 x fiber, 97 x vitamin B12.” (Olson said that he hasn’t seen data to support these nutritional claims, but that the nutrient profile of Moringa oleifera “does at least rival or exceed that of milk, yogurt, and eggs, serving for serving.”) Superfood fans are already biting: this past year, Whole Foods began carrying Kuli Kuli’s products nationwide. According to Curtis, the company sold a million dollars in Moringa products in the first six months of 2016.What is unfortunate is this: It is not clear whether people, especially in the poorer countries, understood the value of the moringa:
Olson is skeptical of the Moringa fad within wealthy health-food enclaves. “Trumpeting dried Moringa as the cure du jour for people in the rich West misses the real potential of this plant,” he said. He sees Moringa as a kind of anti-superfood—not something to be frittered away as a luxury supplement, like açaí berries sprinkled on oatmeal, but to be used as a staple, an essential form of sustenance. Fahey agreed. “When you look at maps of the areas in the world where Moringa grows, and then at maps where populations are undernourished, it’s amazing—they almost exactly overlap,” he told me. And, given the pressures of climate change, this correlation may strengthen in the coming decades.If only my grandmothers were alive to chuckle at how an age old practice is now being labeled as superfood, and that too in a world that will rapidly become hot and dry!
Wikipedia includes this about moringa:
It can also be used for water purification and hand washing, and is sometimes used in herbal medicineBoth Wiki and the New Yorker essay missed out on another important feature of the moringa--its status as an aphrodisiac. Wait till the scientists figure that out; your inboxes will soon be flooded with moringa spam emails ;)