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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
Suppliers of black seed oil for the nutritional market are carving out their territory early on with branded black seed ingredients that draw a line in the sand between them and the rest of the market.
Black seed oil (Nigella sativa) is having a moment-one that a few suppliers are anticipating will last for quite a while. While black seed sales are still relatively small-HerbalGram’s latest report1 estimated that black seed sales were under $5 million in the natural retail channel in 2017-its sales growth should be taken seriously. In that same report, HerbalGram estimated that sales in 2017 grew 202%.
Why are more consumers drawn to black seed oil these days? Black seed has a long history in traditional medicinal regimes, including in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, for addressing a wide range of conditions thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In modern research, it has been studied for everything from insulin secretion and glycemic control to rheumatoid arthritis, wound healing, cancer, and ulcerative colitis.
When an ingredient, especially an herb, becomes increasingly popular, risk of economically motivated adulteration rises. Suppliers of black seed oil for the nutritional market are carving out their territory early on with branded black seed ingredients that draw a line in the sand between them and the rest of the market.
The Need for Standardization
Morris Zelkha is the CEO of TriNutra Ltd. (Ness Ziona, Israel) and the former CEO of ingredient supplier LycoRed (Be’er Sheva, Israel). Out the gate, TriNutra has come to market with what it says is the first standardized, cold-pressed black seed oil. Called ThymoQuin, the oil is standardized to 3% thymoquinone, its key active. Barrington Nutritionals (Harrison, NY) is distributing ThymoQuin in the U.S.
At SupplySide East, Zelkha told Nutritional Outlook that while there are many black seed ingredients on the market-he estimates that there are 30 suppliers of black seed oil currently-“we found that there is no standardized black seed oil, and there is no monograph by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP).” As a result, he said, “Everyone is coming to the market with ingredients of different quality.” For instance, he said, at one point TriNutra tested nearly 20 different black seed oil ingredients on the market and, according to Zelkha, found “a big gap” in quality.
Zelkha said this is the reason TriNutra launched ThymoQuin. The ingredient stands out in several ways, he said. For one thing, TriNutra uses room-temperature, cold-press extraction that preserves the “whole composition” of the black seed, instead of simply isolating its thymoquinone. Zelkha said that all of black seed’s constituents, working synergistically, are responsible for the ingredient’s efficacy, and so the company needed a production process that would preserve the whole spectrum.
“We start with breed varieties that give us higher thymoquinone, and from there, we can achieve 3% thymoquinone in the black seed oil, standardized,” he said. This 3% level is highly potent, he added. He said TriNutra is in the process of submitting a monograph to USP for black seed oil.
And, he said, all clinical studies TriNutra conducts will be on this standardized ingredient. For instance, a new animal study2 has been published in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences on the potential beneficial effects of ThymoQuin on metabolic function and fatty liver. Researchers concluded: “Our findings indicate a potential clinical role for thymoquinone in the prevention of obesity-related steatosis in metabolic disease.”
That’s one thing that black seed suppliers will need to do more of: figure out just where, out of black seed’s many potential health benefits, to focus their science on. Sabinsa (East Windsor, NJ), which recently launched its Nigellin brand-name black seed ingredient, is currently considering this, said Sabinsa’s worldwide president, Shaheen Majeed, at SupplySide East. Last December, the company announced the results of a published, comparative study3 that evaluated Nigellin’s thymoquinone potency against others on the market. The ingredient is standardized to contain thymoquinone, thymohydroquinone, hederagenin, and rosmarinic acid.
“People are looking at Nigella sativa very closely,” Majeed said. What we’ve found is that black seed research is all over the place. You have studies looking at inflammation, but then you also have studies on the other side looking at allergies. You have studies looking at healthy blood sugar, cholesterol, you name it. We’re fascinated: this little seed can do a lot of wonders. So where does a company start to focus?”
Majeed said Sabinsa will be focusing on immune health, a category where the company feels black seed oil “can have an impact.”
“But we’re not going to stop there,” he added. “We’re going to do other types of studies on Nigellin. We want to do a study on immune health, and we want to do a study on blood sugar…We are just scratching the surface. It’s exciting.”
Black seed isn’t just a standalone ingredient. In fact, said Zelkha, some of its most valuable health impacts may be achieved in conjunction with other ingredients.
Omega-3 is one of them. Specifically, he said, adding 10%-20% of his company’s ThymoQuin black seed oil can help “boost” the anti-inflammatory potential of omega-3 oils. That’s because ThymoQuin is a potent anti-inflammatory. “We have similar effects on carotenoids such as astaxanthin, lutein, beta-carotene, and lycopene,” Zelkha said. “All that is boosting the anti-inflammation activities of the carotenoids.”