Could hibiscus become the next big thing in holistic nutrition?
Two Nigerian-come-Manitoban business owners and the farmers they employ back in Nigeria sure hope so.
Meshack Kusa and Michael Daramola started their own hibiscus-based tea company, Yomm Beverages Inc., here in 2009.
They’ve been selling and marketing two kinds of hibiscus tea and four kinds of hibiscus-based ice teas – which are brewed, bottled and packaged right here in Manitoba – since December of 2011, hoping to stake their claim in Canada’s functional foods market.
“I have to be frank with you, it’s not easy because although it is a product that is known in different parts of the world, it is not well known here in North America,” said Meshack Kusa.
Kusa and Daramola met rather serendipitously, after they both had grown up in Nigeria and spent years studying and working in Moscow. Kusa is a veterinarian, who also had experience working for a hibiscus tea company in Russia, while Daramola worked in finance.
“We actually met in Manitoba, we didn’t know each other from Nigeria before," said Kusa. "I brought up the idea [to start the hibiscus company] and he bought into it and said, ‘this is good, let’s go for it.”
Daramola already had farming land in the Ekiti State of western Nigeria, and with that land they employ about 20 Nigerian farmers who are producing the raw flowers. He is currently in Nigeria right now, overseeing the planting of next year’s hibiscus crop.
All of their products have less than three ingredients; only hibiscus flowers make up the tea base and only organic agave and organic cane sugar provide sweetness for the cold drinks.
“We don’t have any additives or preservatives, and we try to make it pretty simple, because we believe simplicity is absolute sophistication,” said Kusa.
While the exact dietary science surrounding hibiscus is still in its infancy, there is plenty of literature pointing out its health properties, from its high dosage of antioxidants and fibre, to how three daily cups of hibiscus tea can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
But above the nutritional aspects, it’s simply pretty tasty, with a dry bittersweet flavour like that of a pomegranate.
(I’ve also read that it can cure a hangover, so I’ll have to do my own independent research on that one.)
“We are trying our best to educate people to the benefits of the product and let them know that the most important thing is that we want them to feel good – and our sense of feeling good is that they are enjoying our product, and we are providing support for the African farmers,” said Kusa.
Yomm Beverages are available at health food and independent grocery stores across Manitoba. The tea retails at around five dollars for a box containing twenty bags, while the ice tea comes in a little steep (pun intended) at $3.50.