How Nestlé Is Turning South Africa’s Traditional Leafy Greens To Gold

How Nestlé Is Turning South Africa’s Traditional Leafy Greens To Gold

Nestlé is launching a range of noodles in South Africa containing the indigenous vegetable morogo — the result of a public-private research collaboration that it says resulted in the development of an innovative commercial product.

This is the first time that morogo, also known as amaranthus, has been used on an industrial basis, Nestlé said in a press release. The company’s long-term stated goal is to help farmers boost their income by producing morogo on a commercial scale.

Morogo, the Tswana word for vegetables, refers to a group of dark green leafy vegetables found throughout Southern Africa. It’s also known as wild or African spinach and used to prepare traditional South African dishes, according to Taste.

Various leafy greens including cleome, cow pea and amaranthus were assessed by Nestlé and the research team for nutrient bioavailability during digestion.

After conducting research and consumer studies, amaranthus was ultimately chosen.

The development of the new product, packaged under the Maggi label, is the result of a three-year collaboration between the Switzerland-based food giant — the largest food company in the world by revenue — the South African Department of Science and Technology and the country’s Agricultural Research Council.

They agreed to research the potential of South Africa’s traditional leafy greens for possible use in food and nutraceuticals.

Nestlé chose morogo as the flavor for the new line of Maggi two-minute noodles “because of its proven health benefits, particularly the presence of beta carotene, minerals and protein,” the company said.

There’s some disagreement over what exactly constitutes morogo, according to a report in FarmersWeekly. For some, it’s any of a number of edible species of amaranth that grow like weeds along the road and in fields. These plants grow to 1.5 meters (5 feet) tall, and the smaller, younger leaves are the ones picked for cooking.

Morogo is also used as a general term to describe the young, green leaves of any leafy plant that can be cooked up like spinach in South Africa, according to FarmersWeekly.

Amaranth is adaptable and grows easily in various weather and soil conditions. There are red and green types. The green is less bitter.

“In South Africa indigenous knowledge has massive potential for research, development and innovation,” said Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, in a prepared statement. “We successfully translated academic research into an innovative commercial product which will be enjoyed by South African consumers.”

South Africans have been foraging traditional leafy greens for millennia directly from the land as wild harvests, Kathryn Kure wrote in a blog on FoodiesChannel.

Morogo has several names in South Africa including imifino in Zulu and Xhosa, or muroho in Tshivenda.

The plants are rich in micro-nutrients including iron, calcium, vitamins A and C and omega 3s, Kure said. Some varieties produce seeds that can be considered a complete protein.

Still, most wild morogo has been generally classified as weeds, and sometimes labelled derisively as pigweed, Kure said. Many morogo plants are regionally specific. Amaranthus is by far the most common one with over 60 different species —  many well known throughout the world for their edible leaves.

Amaranthus is sometimes known as Asian greens. One species was highly prized by the Aztec in Mexico.

It shares the pigweed label with another species, purslane, which has a long culinary history in the Western Cape, where it was once considered a staple in bredies — traditional South African meat-and-vegetable stews.

One amaranth species found in the U.S. is considered a super weed, notoriously resistant to the herbicide Roundup. The plant proved adept at thriving in adverse conditions, tolerant to heat and drought, and is a remarkable carbon fixer and photosynthesizer with prodigious growth, Kure said. It is also considered a prolific seeder with highly mobile pollen.

Nestle’s collaboration with the South African government demonstrates the company’s commitment to communities in which it does business, said Ravi Pillay, South African director of corporate affairs. It’s a way of “leveraging global expertise for local preference,” Pillay said in a press release.

This is an opportunity for South Africa’s small-scale farmers, said Rachel Chikwamba with the CSIR — South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

“We also evaluated the commercial viability of producing African leafy vegetables in a sustainable manner for commercial and smallholder farmers,” said Shadrack Moephuli, CEO of the Agricultural Research Council.