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3 little-known superfoods – and why you need to be eating them

I find it interesting to discover new foods while traveling and curious to try them. Most of us already know about superfoods like blueberries, beetroot, spirulina, etc. but there are many others that are just as good, if not better, for our health. Three little-known ones that you might consider trying that have originated from Africa and China are Yuzu, Ashwagandha, and Griffonia Seed.



By Kash Atwal, co-founder of Operate

Although some dismiss superfoods as faddy, it is easy to see why their popularity has, in fact, endured. After all, who can argue with including nutrients in your day-to-day diet that not only promote health and wellbeing but may also prevent common, and sometimes life-limiting, diseases.

To be classed as a superfood, a particular food or drink must be dense in beneficial nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids, usually while being relatively low in calories. Superfoods are mostly plant-based but ingredients such as salmon are included within their number.

You may think you know all the best superfoods, but there are three lesser-known contenders that are well worth adding to your diet: Griffonia Seed; Yuzu; and Ashwagandha.


These are the seeds of the Griffonia simplicifolia plant, which is a climbing shrub found in West and Central Africa. Local people use the leaves to make palm wine and the sap can also be drunk. Different parts of the plants are traditionally used for various ailments: the leaf sap for kidney issues or inflamed eyes; the bark for syphilitic sores; and a paste made from both stems and leaves are used on wounds and decaying teeth.

However, it is the medicinal properties of the seeds that are what truly set this plant aside as one of nature’s miracle workers. The seeds are a natural source of a chemical called 5-hydroxytryptophan (more commonly known as 5-HTP).

Superfood properties:

Essentially, the superfood qualities of the Griffonia seed are that of 5-HTP, another substance that has undergone substantial research. 5-HTP is an amino acid which helps your body to produce serotonin, a chemical messenger that transmits signals between nerve cells. When serotonin is low, it leads to various health issues, which is why topping up on 5-HTP can help redress them.

Perhaps most well-studied is the effect of 5-HTP on depression symptoms and it is believed that the effect of raising serotonin levels can help reduce symptoms. Not only that, because serotonin can be converted into the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin, it may also aid in restful sleep. It can also increase feelings of being full, thus decreasing appetite and promoting weight loss.

More specifically, 5-HTP, found in Griffonia seeds, is also being researched in relation to benefits for both migraines and fibromyalgia.

How to get it into your diet

5-HTP supplements are readily available. It is also found in combination with nutrients with similar properties, for example sleep-promoting ingredients, in supplement form. Look also for drinks with Griffonia seed as an ingredient. There are drinks available now with all three of these little known superfoods included, for example Operate is a nootropic sports drink containing Ashwagandha, Yuzu and Griffonia Seed giving you a triple superfood hit in one go!


Yuzu or Citrus junos is, as the Latin name implies, a citrus fruit. It is similar in size and appearance to a tangerine but with thicker, bumpier skin. Its taste, however, is sharper – more like a combination of lemon, lime and grapefruit. Indeed, it is considered by some to be a citrus hybrid. However, Yuzu’s seeds are bigger and more numerous than other citrus fruits, meaning that when extracting the flesh / juice Yuzu has a lower yield than other family members.

It's commonly believed that the Yuzu fruit originated in China—along the Yangtze River—and is still grown there today, as well as in Australia, Spain, Italy, France and Korea. However, Yuzu has a long history in Japan, having reached there around 1300 years ago. It has been used as a medicine, and it is now said that the fragrance of the Japanese fruit is superior to that grown in other countries. Japan produces around 27,000 tons of Yuzu every year.

Superfood properties

The reason Yuzu was traditionally used as a medicine – particularly for warding off colds – is very likely to be down to its high concentration of vitamin C. Vitamin C is, of course, a powerful antioxidant and is found alongside several other antioxidants in the Yuzu fruit, including flavonoids and carotenoids. Antioxidants neutralise potentially harmful free radicals—which damage cells and can cause oxidative stress—thus antioxidants are widely held to reduce the risk of various diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers.