I have an involuntary reflex to the word “superfood”: It makes a single eyebrow twitch upward. Or, if I see the word in a story pitch, another reflex causes a spastic finger to delete the email. This reflex stems from Pavlovian conditioning: Every time I have heard the word “superfood,” I soon after find that someone is spoon-feeding me a hot bowl of hype.

So what I’m about to write here comes as a surprise even to me: Moringa should be the next superfood!

The thing is, moringa is different. If it becomes an obsession for rich, toned, hyper-vigilant Westerners, it wouldn’t be just another annoying fad. It would actually help the people who really do have to pay close attention to what they eat — because they are in danger of suffering malnourishment. It would provide money and nutrition to people in poverty. And it might just make Westerners a little healthier. And, yeah, it would also probably be an annoying fad (but I could live with that).

The American communal consciousness has a difficult time caring about poor people in other countries, but fixates intensely on the possibility of gaining superpowers by eating superfoods. It’s nice to be able to direct the power of the latter toward the former.

Moringa tree
Moringa tree.Kuli Kuli

And the thing is, moringa really is an amazingly nutritious plant. It’s a tree that grows like a weed throughout the tropics, all around the world. The leaves are packed with vitamins, potassium, calcium (way more than milk), and iron. They provide nine times the protein as an equivalent serving of yogurt. Moringa has been used in several cultures as a form of medicine, and there is some evidence that it may have some antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects. Fidel Castro credited his recovery from sickness, a few years back, to moringa. Basically, it’s supposed to cure everything. I won’t be going down that rabbit hole, but you’re welcome to; here’s the entrance.

All of that is really good news for the paleo-vegan Crossfit enthusiasts of Wall Street, but it’s even better news for do-gooder greens and Peace Corps types who want to be healthy and help the poor.

buckets (1)
Lisa Curtis, left, in Niger.

Lisa Curtis is one of the do-gooders. She and several friends have founded the company Kuli Kuli to bring moringa to the masses. Last week, I met Curtis in Kuli Kuli’s office in Oakland. The business occupies a single modest room over a coffeehouse. Curtis, who is petite and soft-spoken, offered me some green cake — its frosting and crumb colored by powdered moringa. It was delicious, but I don’t know that I could detect the flavor of our superfood: It just tasted like cake. Moringa doesn’t have a very strong flavor, Curtis said. “It’s earthy, a little grassy,” she told me. “A lot of people say it tastes like green tea.”

We sat at a table in the center of the one-room office and Curtis told me the story of how she became a moringa booster. She was working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger; her village didn’t have a market, so her food choices were limited.