Sea buckthorn as been in the news lately, with the ingredient having made a appearance on the Dr. Oz show. And influential natural health authority Dr. Andrew Weil has been using Sibu’s sea buckthorn pulp in recipes served in his chain of health food restaurants.
Sea buckthorn grows in many locations in the Northern Hemisphere from sea coasts in Europe to treeline locales across Eurasia. But Sibu founder and CEO Bruce McMullin settled on wildcrafted stocks harvested at high altitude along the Himalayan mountain chain as offering the highest quality berries.
Finding best berries took years
McMullin, whose initial connection with the region came as the result of adopting a child from India, said learning about the growing region, what kinds of berries were available where and their relative qualities was a labor of some years.
“There is a diverse variety of sea buckthorn that grows across the region. They are not all the same species. It’s an interesting task to evaluate them and compare the differences. I’ve got some information we’ve developed over the years that give us the best of all worlds depending on altitude and conditions,” he told NutraIngredinets-USA.
“I get oil from one species and pulp from another species.”
In addition to seeking the best quality, McMullin said he’s seeking to add volume to respond to what he foresees as rising demand.
“We are thinking that sea buckthorn is only going to grow. So we are making projections years out to be able start production in different countries and different regions in the Himalayas,” he said.
And McMullin, who is a member of the International Sea Buckthorn Association and has spoken at some of their meetings, is casting his view beyond the Himalayas, too.
“I’m really interested in the sea buckthorn berries in the Altai Mountains of Russia and also Mongolia. I have a deal in Mongolia to see if they can produce for us,” he said.
Science backing for ingredient
Sea buckthorn is a nutrient-dense ingredient, McMullin said, offering high levels of vitamin C among its 190 or so bioactive compounds that include flavonoids and omega 7 fatty acids. In addition to the popular media push, sea buckthorn has received some positive science backing, too. A 2011 review by the University of Manitoba backed the berry’s heart health benefits, Another review later in 2011 was bullish on the berry's health credentials, but for called on more research about how different processing methods affected ingredient quality.
The key to the quality of Utah-baed Sibu’s raw material, McMullin said, is the rapid processing of the berries. The company has interests in several pulping facilities located close to where the berries are harvested, meaning the berries are pulped and frozen within hours of harvesting.
The company follows what it says are sustainable practices in harvesting the berries. Unlike the practice at some other companies, McMullin said, Sibu’s harvesters don’t cut branches to harvest berries; rather, they are shaken off the bushes (which can grow up to 30 feet high along some streams in the harvesting area) onto tarps, ensuring only ripe berries ready to fall are gathered. This care are rapid processing maintains the fullest suite of phytonutrients, McMullin said. It makes both for a more healthful and more attractive ingredient, he said.
“It maintains the color and the qualities of the raw sea buckthorn and keeps the color so it’s that vibrant orange and it has that natural tart flavor,” he said. The pulp or juice from most other supplies is oxidized in processing, McMullin said, rendering a brown, flat-tasting ingredient.
The company sells pulp and oil, and has two finished products on the market under the Sibu Beauty label, a liquid dietary supplement and a topical skin care product, both of which have wide distribution in the natural channel, including Whole Foods. In addition, the company is planning a Sibu Seven line based on the omega-7 fatty acids found in the fruit.