The plant’s flour, whose specific epithet is Boerhavia elegana Choisy, was evaluated for “chemical and nutritional composition, and functional properties in a pursuit to identify an innovative plant with high nutraceuticals value,” the researchers wrote.
Published in the journal Food Chemistry, the researchers analyzed the flour’s composition and found it to be rich in dietary fiber (30.13%), protein (14.60%), crude fat (11.49%), carbohydrates (30.77%), and ash (6.88%).
“It can be concluded that alhydwan is an excellent food material with a high nutritional value,” the researchers wrote.
In search of nutrient-dense, cheap sources
There isn’t much literature yet about the plant, and the results offered by search engines are minimal. According to the study’s researchers, who represent academics from universities in China, Sudan, and Malawi, Boerhavia elegana Choisy is an edible herbaceous member of the Nynctaginaceae family found in Southern Yemen.
“It has a long history of usage by indigenous and tribal people especially in preparing the traditional cuisines and as one of the staple ingredients in porridge manufacturing, desserts, and savory products,” they wrote. However, it is unknown what the current commercial harvest of alhydwan is. It is also not known if there is any history of use in the US as a dietary ingredient or food ingredient.
Additionally, they added that studying such alternative plant-based food options is a critical component to challenge potential food security issues as the population count increases. Beyond usage as a food ingredient, the researchers also propose using the alhydwan in food supplements or fortification ingredient in foods of low nutritional composition.
“Our effort may bridge the knowledge gap in missing data and subsequently may open new horizons of further studies about these seeds,” they wrote.
According to the report, dried alhydwan seeds were obtained from a local farm in Wad Hadramout, Yemen, soon after harvesting. It was transported to a mill in Tianjin, China, where the rest of the study was conducted.
Composition analysis was determined using the micro-Kjeldahl method for crude protein. Fat, moisture, fiber, and ash (for mineral) contents were determined using standard AOAC methods. In addition, the researchers also analyzed the seed for amino acids and vitamins, and determine its functional properties based on water holding capacity, oil binding capacity, emulsifying capacity, and foaming capacity.
“On dry basis, the flour contains high composition of dietary fiber (36.13%), protein (14.60%), fat (11.49%), and ash (6.88%),” the researchers wrote. “The protein content was higher than that of cereal crops (7.5–12 g/100 g) and eggs (12.8 g/100 g).”
Based on these numbers, especially the significantly high amount of dietary fiber, the researchers said that it “undoubtedly makes it a potential ideal ingredient for functional food formulation.”
As for its amino acids, the researchers liken alhydwan’s composition to whole wheat flour, as it was high with isoleucine, threonine, lysine, histidine, and methionine. In terms of minerals, the researchers noted a higher content of calcium and potassium compared to oat and barley, but it had manganese, copper, zinc, and sodium slightly lower than the two.
Water-soluble vitamins were also plenty, according to the studies. It had higher thiamine (B1) and riboflavin (B2) compared to legumes and common wheat, but slightly lower niacin (B3).
A promising start?
“The results of this study present alhydwan seeds as an excellent source of diverse nutrients and a very promising alternative source of food to overcome malnutrition problems which could be implemented as excellent nutritional supplement especially for vitamins and dietary fiber,” the researchers wrote.
Because of its preliminary nature, the researchers wrote that there weren’t any other analyses on the plant that they can compare to, but they still proposed that “alhydwan crop promotion and commercialization worldwide may prove an invaluable alternative non-conventional food sources.”
Source: Food Chemistry
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2016.05.016
“Proximate composition, functional properties, amino acid, mineral and vitamin contents of a novel food: Alhydwan (Boerhavia elegana Choisy) seed flour”
Authors:Ammar Al-Farga, et al.