From farm to table: Nutritious foods using diverse ingredients

To feed 9 billion people on a hotter planet, we must diversify our diets beyond the highly processed, energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods from only major 'staple' crops. Diverse diets must include foods that are nutritious, tasty and desirable for consumers and commercially viable for producers. They must also address the twin scourges of under and over nutrition.   
 
Micronutrient deficiencies or ‘hidden hunger’ affect approximately two billion people worldwide, or about one third of the world’s population. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, iron and zinc, limit physical growth and human development and impair the immune system. We must achieve the full definition of ‘food security’ and ensure that communities have access to food that is affordable and nutritious.  
 
Crops For the Future is testing the unrealised potential of underutilised crops to help contribute to human welfare and health. In particular, its programmes are exploring innovations that can generate income opportunities for the world's poor whilst ensuring food security and reducing 'hidden hunger'. Through the FoodPLUS programme, underutilised crops are tested for their nutritional content and incorporated into value-added products that are both nutritious and marketable. Utilising such crops in food products generates new ways of looking at nutrition and food, that include opportunities to explore our common food heritage and rediscover recipes for the many `forgotten foods’ that are being displaced by a uniform, globalised diet. 
  
One of the underutilised crops used in FoodPLUS is the moringa tree (Moringa oleifera) - a highly nutritious and drought-tolerant crop that is grown across the tropics and sub-tropics. All parts of the moringa tree – from its bark to its flowers – are edible. The immature seed pods, called ‘drumsticks’, are commonly used in South Asian dishes. 
 
As well as these more familiar uses, FoodPLUS is exploring the inclusion of moringa leaves - which are packed with protein, vitamins A, B and C, and minerals - into nourishing and desirable food products. A novel use of moringa leaves is for instant moringa soup – a two-step product that requires only water to prepare. The moringa leaves are carefully selected before being dried at very low temperatures. This process preserves micronutrients, such as vitamin C, through the supply chain. 
 
Speaking on the need for agricultural diversification, CFF Chief Executive Officer Professor Sayed Azam-Ali emphasises that “we can’t only depend on a small number of the world’s major crops to sustain over 9 billion people in the volatile and unpredictable climates of the future. We need to diversify our food basket to include ingredients derived from underutilised crops.” 
 
Tan Xin Lin, Food Technology Manager, highlights that one of the issues faced nowadays is people’s perception of ‘fast food’, saying “when they talk about convenience food, it’s always something quick but unhealthy.” The instant moringa soup provides a delicious, nutritious and convenient alternative for consumers rather than reaching out for other instant foods that are low in nutrients and high in calories. The sachets can be easily transported to displaced communities with limited access to nutritious and tasty foods.
 
FoodPLUS has also created murukku (a savoury Indian snack) and Italian biscotti, made from bambara groundnut – another drought-tolerant, high-protein, low-fat legume.
 
Both moringa and bambara groundnut act as exemplar species which can diversify our diets and provide us with essential nutrients in the unpredictable climates of the future. By looking at these underutilised crops, we are looking at better food, nutrition and income options for the poor and our future generations, as well as niche foods for urban markets.