Coming soon to a store near you -- the amazing sea buckthorn.
Winnipegger Mila Maximets is first out of the blocks with a new sea buckthorn puree juice called Solberry, which hit health-food stores last week.
"It's the best plant for deriving nutrients," said Maximets. Just add a tablespoon of her unsweetened juice per day to anything from water to soft drinks to smoothies.
Maximets also produces a soap called Solberry Me! made from sea buckthorn oils.
"If I had more money, I would dive into (the oils) and swim because it's so good for your skin."
Other local products heading to store shelves in the near future include sea buckthorn jams, teas and energy bars. An energy bar made from hemp and sea buckthorn by Farm Genesis of Waskada is already in some grocery stores. Products in the pipeline from elsewhere in Western Canada include sweetened sea buckthorn beverages, cosmetic creams and lotions and a gelato, said Alphonsus Utioh, research and development manager at the Manitoba Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie.
Sea buckthorn fits the superfood category. It's just a pint-size orange berry but contains as much vitamin C as eight oranges. It's rich in Omega 3, like fish, which helps prevent heart disease and stroke, Omega 6, Omega 9 and Omega 7. Sea buckthorn is also high in vitamins A and E, which benefit the skin.
Sea buckthorn's potential heart benefits are detailed in a new study headed by Yan-Jun Xu of the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Manitoba. Sea buckthorn berries appear to act as powerful antioxidants, improve cardiac cell health, increase circulating lipid markers and prevent cardiac cell death from oxidative stress and injuries. The study is published in the Journal of Functional Foods.
Xu is also trying to breed a sweeter sea buckthorn berry on land just outside Winnipeg. The berry tastes like an orange but is more tart.
Maximets, an electronics engineer by training, emigrated from Ukraine in 1989 and worked in telecommunications until two years ago. "What I really wanted to do was develop a health-food product," she said.
Sea buckthorn was always in her house when she was growing up near Kyiv. The berry is widely used in Russia and China. It was the official drink of the Chinese athletes at the Beijing Olympics.
But she could find little product in Manitoba, so she partnered with Manitoba farmers in Winkler and Selkirk who are experimenting with growing sea buckthorn and, with the help of the Manitoba Food Development Centre, developed a puree.
The development centre suggested she add sugar, but she wanted no additives. "The shelves are littered with stuff, the foods that we shouldn't eat, overly processed foods, (where) it's hard to read ingredients," she said. "I want simplicity."
Some of the vitamin C is lost through pasteurization, but a single tablespoon of her product still supplies 25 per cent of daily needs.
Maximets mixes her Solberry product with water. Anthony Mintenko, a Manitoba Agriculture fruit specialist, has mixed it with apple juice. "It just needs a bit of sugar and then you just think of how good it is for you," he said.
The problem with sea buckthorn is the shrubs protect their berries with thorns that are five centimetres long. The berries are also firmly attached to the plant. Manitoba growers have been cutting branches, freezing them, then shaking off the berries.
That's labour-intensive, said Mintenko. It might be hard for companies to compete with cheaper product from China except in niche markets, he said.
But Maximets noted Canadian food production standards are more stringent than China's, and that people like to buy local product.
Winnipeg stores selling her Solberry product include Vita Health Stores, Organza, A1 Nutrition and Scoop and Save. A bottle retails for $24.95 and contains about 25 tablespoons of juice.