Every few years, a new superfood enters the food industry scene. The new superfood in question, sea buckthorn, is slowly starting to gain ground. Soon, we may be seeing sea buckthorn in stores, on ingredient lists, and on restaurant menus around the world. Here’s everything you need to know about this rising star and nutritional powerhouse.
What Is Sea Buckthorn?
The sea buckthorn bush, which is grown at high altitudes, is a medicinal plant that has been used as a natural remedy for a number of health issues for many thousands of years. The oil extracted from the seeds, leaves, and berries of this small shrub can be applied to the skin or ingested internally. Traditionally, it is grown in the northwest Himalayan region, and it is sometimes known as the holy fruit of the Himalayas. However, it is also an extremely adaptable plant. Despite its native habitat in Asia and Europe (and at high altitudes), it can be grown in environments as diverse as the Canadian prairies, Russia, and in the Himalayan mountains. As a staple ingredient of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, sea buckthorn oil can potentially provide important health benefits, protect against skin damage, stomach ulcers, and even support heart health.
An Important Source of Nutrients
Sea buckthorn’s nutritional properties are nothing short of extraordinary. The plant is naturally rich in antioxidants, which are believed to protect against illnesses such as heart disease and cancer and may also serve as a safeguard against the effects of aging. It also contains a number of important vitamins and minerals, including phosphorous, folate, biotin, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin E, and vitamins B1, B2, and B6. Sea buckthorn is an incredible source of vitamin C, as well, providing more than 12 times the amount that is found in an orange. Unlike most plant sources, sea buckthorn is a source of vitamin B12, a vitamin most commonly found in animal products. That feature makes sea buckthorn an important food for vegetarians, as a rare plant-based source of that particular vitamin. Additionally, it is one of very few edible plants containing all of the omega-3 fatty acids, possibly helping to encourage the growth of collagen.
It is often applied topically to reduce inflammation (such as in the case of a sunburn) and to promote wound healing. The skincare market has been utilizing sea buckthorn in its products since the early 2000s, citing its virtues in anti-aging products and its ability to prevent the skin from drying out. It may also improve skin elasticity and promote healing after frostbite, bedsores, and wounds. When taken internally, sea buckthorn is thought to promote heart health and to treat gout, gastrointestinal ulcers, arthritis, and even to reduce triglycerides and cholesterol.
Applications in the Food Industry
Even though sea buckthorn has been used medicinally for thousands of years and in skincare products since at least the early 2000s, its use in the food industry is only just beginning to ramp up. Unlike other fruits such as strawberries and blueberries, sea buckthorn comes in countless varieties, ranging widely in flavor, much like apples. The taste can run the gamut from the very sweet to the very tart and bitter. Educating the public will likely help it to become more accepted in the food industry. Already, sea buckthorn is becoming incorporated into products such as chocolate bars and juices, as well as a dried fruit. It also can be used as a natural preservative and has been applied to many meat products.
A Bright Future
True to its name, the sea buckthorn bush is covered in thorns and is grown in extremely tough conditions. Since it thrives in poor soil and difficult growing conditions, it can sometimes prove difficult for growers to maintain. The berries themselves have a very thin skin, which makes it difficult to harvest them. Sometimes, the plant grows underground, and the sharp thorns make it hard to get to the berries themselves. Since the skin covering the berries is so thin, they often burst as harvesters attempt to remove them from the plant. In spite of these challenges, the sea buckthorn’s impressive nutrient profile will likely help to increase its popularity. Consumers are always searching for the next nutritionally rich product to add to their diets. With a bit of education about what sea buckthorn is and an expanded introduction to its flavors, it could soon enter the mainstream.