Lisa Curtis, the founder of Kuli Kuli Foods, experienced the malnutrition that plagues rural communities in West Africa first-hand. After a few months of volunteering in Niger with limited access to fruits and vegetables, Lisa found herself experiencing early signs of malnutrition—a condition that affects over 18 million children across West Africa. Then she began to incorporate moringa oleifera (a local tree with highly nutritious leaves) into her diet, and she began to regain her health. Lisa returned to the United States and founded Kuli Kuli Foods to develop a market for moringa in support of communities still suffering from poverty and nutrition in Africa. Thus far, Kuli Kuli produces moringa snack bars and a newly-launched pure moringa powder for flexible integration into a modern diet.
Rachel: Moringa is a hardy, common plant growing like a weed throughout vast areas of Africa, India, Thailand, the Philippines… this is the next superfood?
Lisa: Moringa is packed with calcium, protein, and vitamins—it’s more nutritious than kale! Kuli Kuli Foods sells the leaves ground up in snack bars, and in pure powder form. They have a green, earthy flavor, slightly smokey, but not as bitter as kale or as spicy as arugula. A lot of people substitute moringa powder for kale in smoothies because it’s much easier to add a scoop of moringa powder to your smoothie than spend your morning ripping up kale leaves. Our mission to use our proceeds to end of poverty and malnutrition in the communities where our moringa is sourced makes this real-food boost to your health a win-win.
Rachel: Moringa is extremely vitamin-rich, yet the population of West Africa where it grows suffers from malnutrition. What’s the disconnect?
Lisa: In many parts of moringa’s native geography it is considered a famine food, only eaten by the poorest members of the community. An additional contributing factor to the negative perception of moringa is the method of preparation for consumption (boiling for long periods of time) which strips away vitamins and nutrients… which is why an important aspect of Kuli Kuli’s mission is educating the local populations on the benefits of moringa, and on methods of processing it that maintain its beneficial properties and ways of incorporating it into their diet on a regular basis.
In the United States, response to the pure powdered moringa has been very positive because it’s an ingredient that can be incorporated in many different ways according to different dietary preferences, similar to the way in which acai, quinoa or chia (for example) have become widely-known and comparatively mainstream.
Rachel: You’re the founder of a superfood startup, developing a domestic market plus establishing an ethical and sustainable supply chain overseas… what is one thing you personally do every day to maintain your energy, health, and balance?
Lisa: I keep a calendar beside my bed, and every night I make a note of something during the day that went particularly well, or that I’m grateful for. In this way, I keep focused on positivity and have a tangible record of wins and blessings, both large and small, that happen over time!
Rachel: That’s a fantastic daily way of staying focused yet reflective! In a broader sense, what’s next for moringa and Kuli Kuli?
Lisa: Our mission will continue to be improving nutrition and providing a livelihood, with a focus on women farmers. But we’ve come a long way since our crowd-funding campaign in 2013 to do our first big manufacturing run… we’ve expanded both our supply-chain of moringa and also our distribution of the product in the United States (sold in more than 300 stores nationwide) in our first full year on the market. We’ll also continue to expand the availability of our recently-launched pure moringa powder, which has gained great traction as a painless way to get daily required servings of vegetables. We’ve been very impressed with the sales of the moringa powder initially, and the creative ways in which we’ve seen folks integrate it into their diet.
Rachel: Thank you so much for the interview, Lisa. Follow her on Twitter: @lisacurtisPrint