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Amy Brown headshot

Take a Bite Out of Climate Change With Aloha’s New Climate-Resilient Ingredient

Aloha just released a special-edition protein bar that includes Ponova oil. The oil, which is made from the pongamia tree, represents a welcome move toward utilizing more climate-resilient species in the food system.
By Amy Brown
Aloha the Kona bar - protein bar made with oil from pongamia tree

You could be doing your small bit for climate resiliency the next time you bite into a protein bar. How? Aloha just launched a special-edition bar that gets part of its flavor and texture from Ponova oil. The Kona Bar is made from the beans of the ultra-regenerative, climate-resilient pongamia tree that grows on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu.

Ponova oil is the brainchild of California-based food and agricultural innovation company Terviva. The Kona Bar marks the first time the oil has been used commercially in a food product. The pongamia tree is a climate-resilient powerhouse, and Terviva believes it has unlocked its potential as an abundant and sustainable food source with multiple applications. 

What makes the pongamia tree so special?

Pongamia trees are unsung tropical heroes. They are resilient, contribute to soil health and grow sustainably on degraded farmland, according to Terviva. The trees are also inexpensive and require little maintenance. And they produce a legume related to soybeans and peas that is high in both protein and healthy, mid-oleic vegetable oil. The oil has been used in Ayurvedic medicine, rural industrial applications and as an energy source for thousands of years. But it hasn’t been used in food — until now. 

Not only has Aloha stepped up as the first to use the oil in one of its products, but the Hawai'i-based certified B corporation is also donating 10 percent of the proceeds from every Kona bar sold to the nonprofit Kupa, Hawai’i’s leading youth-focused conservation nonprofit.

Scaling up

While Aloha has gotten on the bandwagon first, other commercial uses of the Ponova oil are likely to follow. Terviva is teaming up with food ingredient supplier Ciranda in order to increase commercial supplies of the oil by mid-2023. Danone has put its muscle behind Terviva as well ⸺ the food giant is planning to raise $54 million in equity funding through the partnership.

“Terviva’s pongamia-based food ingredients broaden access to healthy and environmentally sustainable foods that directly combat climate change. With our food ingredients, we can feed the planet and heal it at the same time,” Naveen Sikka, Terviva’s CEO, told Agfundernews in 2021. 

Diversify with climate-resilient crops

Researchers are alarmed that individual tree growth is predicted to decline 56 percent to 91 percent, in large part to climate change, according to a 2022 study published in Global Change Biology. Future forests will have smaller trees that soak up less carbon. That means the food and agriculture industry has to get more creative about utilizing species that can withstand the impacts of climate change. 

The current food system, which is responsible for a third of global carbon emissions, needs to be reinvented. Climate-resilient products like Ponova oil and first-movers like Aloha will be part of the solution. Consider that 75 percent of the human diet consists of only 12 plants and five animal species, including soy, maize, wheat and beef. With hunger on the rise globally and monocultures causing a health and environmental crisis, that is not a sustainable situation.

The answer — for the planet and people alike — is diversifying food sources. So chew on that the next time you choose your snack bar.

Image courtesy of Aloha

Amy Brown headshot

Based in Florida, Amy has covered sustainability for over 25 years, including for TriplePundit, Reuters Sustainable Business and Ethical Corporation Magazine. She also writes sustainability reports and thought leadership for companies. She is the ghostwriter for Sustainability Leadership: A Swedish Approach to Transforming Your Company, Industry and the World. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn and her Substack newsletter focused on gray divorce, caregiving and other cultural topics.

Read more stories by Amy Brown