By Randy V. Urlanda
Children are vital to the nation’s future. To assure a healthy child, our maternal ancestors fed newly delivered mothers of yore a steaming bowl of tinola (a clear chicken soup with garlicky broth) cooked with malunggay leaves to invoke a surge in breast milk supply.
Malunggay (Moringa oleifera), an affordable local vegetable, is the automatic galactagogue (a food that boosts breast milk supply) of choice by most mothers in the Philippines. Malunggay carries 49 vitamins and minerals and essential amino acids, the building blocks of life.
Because of its abundant medicinal benefits to people, from infancy to adulthood, malunggay was declared the “National Vegetable” in 2014. It was cited for offering malnutrition relief in dire areas in the country.
Malunggay helps breastfeeding mothers
In the Philippines, there are about 4,780 babies born daily, or approximately three babies per minute. This means almost 5,000 nursing mothers must have ample supply of breast milk to feed their infants. Unfortunately, not all mothers can produce enough breast milk to nurse their babies.
This inadequate supply of breast milk to about half of the 5,000 mothers who give birth daily, snapped a Eureka! Moment to Zonito Torrevillas Tamase, a former press photographer of Philippine Star and PR manager of McDonald’s Philippines, who pioneered the baking of malunggay pan de sal in the late 2000s. Why not come out with a bottled malunggay tea drink that is a refreshing thirst quencher and can also induce the production of breast milk at the same time?
“After we discovered that M2 tea drink is helping thousands of breastfeeding mother increase breast milk, we decided to regularly donate to PGH neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to help mothers excrete more milk,” says Zonito. “As of our last visit there, the nurse on duty informed us that M2 has been helping mothers nurse their infants,” she continues. “M2 contains an equivalent of eight capsules of 500 mg of malunggay powder for every serving – that’s why it has positive effect on breastfeeding mothers.”
Long before Zonito and her husband, Jojo Tamase formed Naturearth Corporation that manufactures M2, they were living separate lives. Zonito was in Thailand working at Dow Jones, a stock market index, after leaving her lucrative malunggay pan de sal business to her business associate. Jojo, a photojournalist, after returning from the US, worked at Singapore Broadcasting. Long time friends, they got married after coming back to Manila.
A business that is also an advocacy
“Zonito requested me to man her small food booth at a gas station along SLEX,” says 57-year-old Jojo in their huge plant cum residence in Araullo Street, Hagdang Bato in Libis, Mandaluyong City. “Food items were malunggay-spiked shing-a-ling, best-seller pan de sal, biscocho, and her newly concocted M2 malunggay tea drink,” he continues. “During my first time manning the booth, I made P17,000 in one day.”
The couple then lived in a small house in Mandaluyong with two employees. Now, they live in that big three story house near Shaw Boulevard, with a sprawling plant occupying the entire ground floor. M2 concentrate tea drink is made of malunggay powder, okra as thickener, and ginger to give taste. Instead of chemical artificial sweeteners, they use Stevia, a natural plant-extract sweetener and sugar substitute that is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar, with no significant calories.
Naturearth gets its malunggay leaves supply from Laurel, a town near Tagaytay City in Batangas. The leaves are harvested from wild malunggay trees that grow on the foothills of Taal canyon ridge, and trees planted in the backyards of houses.
“Naturearth’s advocacy, aside from helping mothers produce more milk, is to help farmers in Laurel and elsewhere,” declares the 56-year-old Zonito. “We get one thousand kilos of dried malunggay leaves from our Laurel supplier,” she adds. “Malunggay business for Laurel farmers was big money-earner that the supplier was able to buy a stainless steel dryer. We also get from them organically grown turmeric, pandan, lemon grass, ampalaya leaves, guayabano leaves, sili leaves, [and] saluyot leaves for our new food product research and development.”
Naturearth is now in a transition period to relocate to a 8,000-square-meter building in San Pablo City in Laguna, which will house three companies: Naturearth and its new affiliate, Good Roots, and Quantum, owned by their business partner, which eventually would be managed by the couple, too. Nature Earth now has 35 employees with complete benefits, half of whom enjoy free board and lodging.
Malunggay is a fast growing, drought resistant tree, native to tropical and subtropical regions in South Asia. It can be propagated from seeds or cuttings. The spacing of plants should be 15 x 15 cm with conveniently spaced alleys to facilitate plantation management and harvests. The leaves and stems can be harvested from the young plants 60 days after seeding.
Cashing in on the Keto craze
Aside from promoting malunggay spiked snacks and drinks, Zonito and Jojo are also into Keto diet food production. This diet turns the body into a fat burning machine. The human body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is used for energy.
Keto diet goes against conventional wisdom on healthy eating, which involves a lot of fat. The ketogenic or keto diet, which first became popular in the 1920s as a treatment for epilepsy and diabetes, limits carbohydrates to no more than 50 grams a day, which is the rough equivalent to a cup of white rice.
On the keto diet, the body goes into starvation mode and taps its fat stores for fuel. Studies suggest that a low carb, high fat diet may promote weight loss, dull hunger pangs, and stave off age-related illnesses. In this diet, one can eat fish and shellfish; cheese, avocados; meat and poultry, eggs, and coconut oil.
Malunggay can benefit senior citizens
Aside from almost 5,000 healthy breastfed babies born daily, whose mothers drink M2 concentrated tea everyday to induce lactation, malunggay tea drink is also beneficial to our eight million seniors, which comprise 8.2 percent of our total population of 107 million.
As we all know, malunggay is densely packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that ensure superior health. Regular intake of malunggay tea drink therefore, provides seniors with adequate nutrients that other foods cannot provide. Since malunggay is a rich source of vital nutrients for the everyday diet, it revives the entire system and minimizes exhaustion among seniors, besides providing other incredible health benefits.
With a healthy new generation coming in, and healthy seniors still fit due to a diet rich in malunggay, these two generations, with a gap of one generation in between, would surely help in our country’s economic development, thanks to malunggay, the so-called “miracle” tree.
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s June 2019 issue.