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Nuts and Seeds in Health and Disease Prevention – Chapter 93
(Edited by Victor R. Preedy, Ronald Ross Watson and Vinood B. Patel: Elsevier Life Sciences)
Moringa oleifera seed oil: Composition, nutritional
aspects and health attributes
H.M Ghazali and S.M Abdulkarim
Department of Food Science, Faculty of Food Science and Technology, University Putra
Malaysia, 43300 UPM, Serdang, Selangor D.E, Malaysia
Tel.: +60389464201; fax: +6089464232; E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Running title: Moringa oleifera seed oil is healthy
Total words: 3133
Number of references: 20
Number of tables: 3
Number of figures: 1
The mature seed of Moringa oleifera is rich in oil containing between 22-40% crude
fat. Variation in oil yield may be due to the differences in variety of plant, cultivation climate,
ripening stage, the harvesting time of the seeds and the extraction method used. The high
percentage of oil makes this seed a distinct potential for the oil industry. Indeed, a search of
the literature shows that the oil is commercially available in countries like India. An
examination of the oil composition indicates that the oil has a high proportion of
monounsaturated fatty acid, namely oleic acid, which comprising between 65-75% of the
total fatty acid composition. The relative similarity in oleic acid content with other high oleic
acid oils from sources such as olive, high oleic sunflower seeds, high oleic safflower seeds
and high oleic canola seeds bodes well for M. oleifera oil as high oleic oils have been touted
as a functional food good for health. It has been demonstrated that a higher dietary intake of
monounsaturated fatty acid (mainly oleic acid) is associated with decreased risk in coronary
heart disease. Like other high oleic oils, M. oleifera seed oil has been found to have excellent
deep-fat frying performance, being less prone to oxidative and high-temperature degradation
into by-products that may be toxic to the body following consumption of the fried food.
Moringa oleifera; high oleic acid, decreased risk, coronary heart disease, excellent frying
performance, oxidative stability
List of abbreviations:
M. oleifera: Moringa oleifera
The Moringa oleifera seed contains about 22-40% by weight of pale yellow, non
drying oil that has been much used for illuminations as it burns without smoke. It is also
utilized in hairdressing and for soap making. It has been valued in perfume manufacture
because of its capacity to absorb and retain floral fragrances (Chopra et al., 1965), and
formerly was highly priced for lubricating fine watches and machinery in Europe (Lowell
1999). The oil from the seeds is known commercially as 'Ben' or 'Behen' oil is edible. The
pleasant-tasting edible oil resembles olive oil and has been widely used as salad oil in Haiti
and the Caribbean. The seed oil contains all the fatty acids found in olive oil, except linolenic
M. oleifera Lam belongs to the genus Moringaceae which consists of 14 known
species. Of these, M. oleifera is the most widely known and utilised species. The plant is a
native of the sub-Himalayan regions of North West India, and is now indigenous to many
countries in Africa, Arabia, South East Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean islands and South
America. The tree is widely known as the drumstick or horseradish tree. In Malaysia, the
plant is known as „kelor‟. The tree ranges in height from 5-12 meters with an open,
umbrella-shaped crown, straight short trunk with corky, whitish bark, soft, spongy wood. It
has slender, wide spreading, drooping, fragile branches. The foliage can be evergreen or
deciduous depending on climate. It is attractive, gracefully lacy; the alternate twice or trice-
pinnate leaves being spirally arranged, mostly at the branch tips. Leaves are long petiole
about 20-50 cm long, with four to six pairs of pinnae bearing two pairs of opposite leaflets
that are elliptical or obovate (Figure 1a) . The fruits (or pods) are initially light green (Figure
1b) becoming dark green and grow up to 60 cm which when mature became dry and brown
in color (Figure 1c). Mature seeds are round or triangular-shaped, the kernel surrounded by a
light wooded shell with three papery wings (Figure 1d)
Figure 1. Parts of the M. oleifera plants (a) leaves; (b) mature green pods; (c) mature
dry pod and (d) mature seeds surrounded by papery wings
Cultivation and usage
Ancient usage of M. oleifera has been widely reported. The use of the oil extracted
from the mature seeds by ancient Egyptians has been well documented. The oil is treasured
by the Egyptians for skin protection against infections and damage due to extremes of desert
conditions. The benefits of the healthful attributes of the oil were later exported to the
Ancient Greeks and Romans who also used the oil in skin protection. The light and non-
drying nature of the oil e makes it a good massage oil and also in aromatherapy applications.
Due to its tremendous cosmetic value, it was used extensively by the ancient Egyptians as
body and hair care as moisturizer and conditioner. It is also used by ancient Egyptian, Greeks,
and Romans in extracting floral fragrances used in perfumes. The oil has an excellent ability
of retaining fragrances extracted from flowers.
Over the centuries more uses of the oil were discovered in all parts of the world where
the plant is grown. Almost every part of the M. oleifera is value for food. In India, Malaysia,
the Philippines and tropical Africa, the tree is priced mainly for its edible fruits, leaves,
flowers, roots, and seed oil. Tender young plants, less than 0.5 meters high, young leaves and
even mature leaflets and the flower as well, stripped from their stems are cooked and
consumed in salads, soups, sauces, or simply as greens. When mature, the pods yielded seeds
that can be extracted and treated like green peas, fried or roasted and eaten like peanuts.
Powdered seeds have been used in parts of Africa for water clarification and disinfection
during water treatment. In Malaysia, immature pods are cut into small pieces and added to
curries. In Haiti and elsewhere, the seeds are browned in a skillet then crushed and boiled in
water. The oil, which floats, is skimmed off for use as a general culinary and salad oil and for
treatment of skin diseases (Foidl et al., 2001).
Proximate composition of M. oleifera seed
The proximate composition of M. oleifera seed oil has been reported by Abdulkarim
et al. (2005) as follows: moisture, 7.9 ± 1.00%; crude protein, 38.3 ± 1.03%; crude oil, 30.8 ±
2.19%, crude fibre, 4.5 ± 0.38% and ash, 6.5 ± 0.15%. The oil content is comparable to those
that have been reported previously (Makkar and Becker, 1997). Anwar and Bhanger (2003)
reported higher oil contents (38-42%) in seeds produced by M. oleifera grown under
temperate regions of Pakistan.
Properties of M. oleifera seed oil
The high degree of unsaturation (75.2%) of the oil is due to the high percentage of
oleic acid (70%) (Abdulkarim et al., 2005). Apart from oleic acid, other prominent fatty acids
include palmitic (7.8%), stearic (7.6%) and behenic (6.2%) acids (Table 1). Anwar and
Bhanger (2003) in their study on M. oleifera grown in temperate regions reported that the
oleic acid content tended to be higher (up to 78.5%) compared to plants grown in the tropics
(Abdulkarim et al., 2005).
Table 1. Fatty acid composition, degree saturation and
degree unsaturation of M. oleifera seed oil
Type of fatty acid
Myristic/Tetradecanoic acid (C14:0)
Palmitic/Hexadecanoic acid (C16:0)
Palmitoleic/Hexadecenoic acid (C16:1)
Stearic/Octadecanoic acid (C18:0)
Oleic/Octadecenoic acid (C18:1)
Linoleic/Octadecadienoic acid (C18:2)
Linolenic/Octadecatrienoic acid (C18:3)
Arachidic/Eicosanoic acid (C20:0)
Gadoleic/Eicosaenoic acid (C20:1)
Behenic/Docosanoic acid (C22:0)
Arachidic/Eicosanoic acid (C24:0)
Unsaturated fatty acid
Saturated fatty acid
Source: Abdulkarim et al., (2005)
The oil is liquid at room temperature and pale yellow in colour. Electronic nose
analysis showed that the unrefined oil has a flavour similar to that of peanut oil. The melting
point estimated by differential scanning calorimetry was found to be 19.0oC (Abdulkarim et
al., 2005). The oil contains 36.7% triolein as the main triacylglycerol, followed by other oleic
acid-containing triacylglycerols such as palmito-diolein and stearo-diolein. Table 2 shows
some other properties of the oil.
Table 2. Physical and chemical properties of
M. oleifera seed oil
Melting point (oC)
Solid fat content (%) (at room temperature)
Iodine value (g I2/100 g)
Saponification value (mg KOH/oil g)
Unsaponifiable matter content (%)
Source: Abdulkarim et al., (2005); Abdulkarim et al., (2006)
It has also been reported that unrefined extract of the oil contains sterols such as
campesterol (16.0%), stigmasterol (19.0%),
-sitosterol (46.65%), 5-avenasterol (10.70%),
and clerosterol (1.95%) (Anwar and Bhanger, 2003). There were also minute amounts of 24-
methylenecholesterol, 7-campestanol, stigmastanol, and 28-isoavenasterol. Some sterols,
specifically cholesterol, were not detected. The oil was also reported to contain important
minor components such tocopherols (α, γ, and δ) up to 123.50-161.30, 84.07-104.00, and
41.00-56.00 mg/kg, respectively.
The application of enzymes for the extraction of the oil has been studied and reported
by Abdulkarim et al (2006). In this study, four commercial enzymes, namely neutral protease,
-amylase, cellulose and pectinases, were used to extract the oil from ground seeds. The
conditions of extraction reflected the optimum temperature and pH of the enzyme in use. It
was found the neutral protease was able to produce the highest oil recovery (72%) of the total
yield obtained from solvent-assisted extraction. The greater effectiveness of the protease
compared to the other enzymes examined can be ascribed to its ability to hydrolyse proteins
in the seeds, disrupting any possible association between protein and oil in the seed matrix
and cell membrane. Most of the properties shown in Table 2 were not affected by the use of
enzymes during extraction except that the oil that was slightly more intense in colour when
solvent-extracted. Combining all four enzymes at 2% (w/v) each improved recovery to 74%.
The oleic acid content of the oil extracted from the may be elevated to 75.2% oleic through
judicious use of temperature-assisted fractionation (Abdulkarim et al. 2007a).
Applications of Moringa oleifera oil in health promotion and disease
The high content of oleic acid (67-74.5%) or up to 75.2% after fractionation of oil
containing initially 70% oleic acid allows the oil to be classified together with other high
oleic acid oils such as olive oil, and genetically modified high oleic sunflower (>80%), high
oleic safflower (>77%) and high oleic canola oil (>75%). Olive oil which has been termed
the most ancient functional food in history (Ruiz-Gutiérrez and Perona, 2007) paves the way
for the natural Moringa oil to be considered similarly. R&D are underway worldwide to
increase the number of plants capable to producing high oleic acid contents through various
means including genetic modification such as cotton, oil palm and soybean (Watkins, 2009a;
2009b). The high percentage of oleic acid in the oil makes it desirable in terms of nutrition
and high stability cooking and frying oil.
Many circumstances have focused attention on high oleic acid vegetable oils. It has
been demonstrated that a higher dietary intake of “bad” fats (saturated and trans fatty acids)
is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease caused by high cholesterol
levels in the blood (Mensink and Katan, 1990) whereas a higher intake of good fats
(monounsaturated/oleic acid) is associated with a decreased risk (Corbett, 2003; Lopez-
Huertas, 2009). Mensink and Katan (1990) reported that monounsaturated fatty acids
(MUFA) such as oleic acid were capable of reducing blood cholesterol levels in non-
hypertriglyceridemic individuals. Further, Allman-Farinelli et al. (2005) reported that when
foods rich in high oleic acid including margarine were used to substitute foods rich in
saturated fatty acids, human subjects under test were found to have lower levels of blood
serum low density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides and factor VII coagulant activity, a
component of the hemostatic system that is a demonstrated risk factor for either primary or
secondary atherothrombotic events. It was also reported that diets rich in monounsaturated
fatty acids may lower fibrinogen and decrease both the activity and antigenic PAI-1 in
High oleic acid vegetable oils have been found to have enough oxidative stability to
be used in demanding applications such as deep-fat frying (Corbett, 2003). In addition, high
oleic oils have low saturated fatty acid levels. Therefore, high-oleic oils can be viewed as a
healthy alternative to partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Studies carried on the effect of
frying of foods on the properties of M. oleifera oil have variously shown the oil to be stable
to oxidation. Tsaknis and Lalas (2002) reported that the cold-pressed oil had better frying
stability compared to the hexane-extract oil, and that virgin olive oil had the highest
resistance to thermal degradation. Abdulkarim et al. (2007b) reported that the frying
performance of the oil was better than regular canola and soybean oils, and comparable to
palm olein. The data obtained showed lower conversion of the oil to rather toxic polymers
that are often formed when oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids are used for deep-fat
The use of M. oleifera for the prevention and treatment of various ailments has been
reported in many folk medicines all over the world. In India Ayurvedic medicine, Moringa is
used as a preventative agent to about 300 diseases. Most of the health claims are attributed to
the leaves and roots and their decoctions. In the past the medicinal value of the oil extracted
from the seeds is restricted to treatment of few conditions such as those in treatment of skin
disorders. More recently however, the benefits of using the oil for the prevention and cure for
other diseases have been studied and reported. Some of the therapeutic and nutritional uses of
the oil are shown in Table 3.
Table 3. Therapeutic and nutritional uses of M. oleifera seed oil
- Fungal infections
- Skin infections (pyodermia)
- Constipation (as purgative)
Chuang et al. (2007)
Makkar and Becker (1999)
General disorders, prostate function,
bladder function, gout, scurvy
Siddhuraju and Becker (2003)
Moringa oleifera Lam seeds contain a high proportion of oil that can launch the plant as a
major source of plant oil for edible and non-edible purposes. Application of enzymes for
oil extraction, though with lower yields compared to solvent-assisted extraction, may
allow labelling of the oil as organic oil.
The fatty acid composition of M. oleifera seed oil is similar to that of olive oil.
Like olive oil and other genetically modified high oleic acid oils such as sunflower,
safflower and canola oils, M. oleifera oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acid namely
The high oleic acid content of the oil confers it a functional food property as oils
containing high oleic content have been shown to reduce risks of coronary heart disease.
The oil is also an excellent frying medium with low degradation rate when applied at high
The unrefined oil contains minor components that included tocopherols and other
metabolites that have made the oil to be used to treat medical disorders and the like.
Abdulkarim, S. M, Lai, O. M, Muhammad, S. K. S, Long, K and Ghazali, H. M (2005). Some
physico-chemical properties of Moringa oleifera seed oil extracted using solvent and
aqueous enzymatic methods. Food Chem. 93, 253-263.
Abdulkarim, S. M, Lai, O. M, Muhammad, S. K. S, Long, K and Ghazali, H. M (2006). Use
of enzymes to enhance oil recovery during aqueous extraction of Moringa oleifera seed
oil. J. Food Lipids 13, 113-130.
Abdulkarim, S. M, Lai, O. M, Muhammad, S. K. S, Long, K and Ghazali, H. M (2007a).
Oleic acid enhancement of Moringa oleifera seed oil by enzymatic transesterification
and fractionation. ASEAN Food J. 14, 89-100.
Abdulkarim, S. M, Lai, O. M, Muhammad, S. K. S, Long, K. and Ghazali, H. M (2007b).
Frying quality and stability of high-oleic Moringa oleifera seed oil in comparison with
other vegetable oils. Food Chem. 105, 1382-1389.
Allman-Farinelli, M. A., Gomes, K., Favaloro, E. J and Petocz, P. (2005). Diet rich in high-
oleic-acid sunflower oil favorably alters low-density lipoprotein cholesterol,
triglycerides, and Factor VII coagulant activity. J Am Diet Assoc. 105, 1071-1079.
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Chopra, R. N., Badhwar, R. L. and Ghosh, S (1965). Poisonous plants of India, 1, 412-427.
Chuang, P-H., Lee, C-W., Chou, J-C., Murugan, M., Shieh, B-J and Chen, H-M (2007). Anti-
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Corbett, P (2003). It is time for an oil change! Opportunities for high-oleic vegetables oils,
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