Brief

Could duckweed be a new better-for-you ingredient?

Dive Brief:

  • Researchers at the University of Jena have found that globosa, a small, rootless duckweed, has potential as a protein source for humans, according to Nutrition Insight.
  • Duckweed is nutrient-rich and contains omega-3 fatty acids, and researchers predict that it could be used as a supplement in smoothies and gluten-free foods. The plant also multiplies quickly, grows in water and does not require any additional land, making it more environmentally sustainable than soy.
  • Its essential amino acid composition closely resembles animal protein, and therefore duckweed could be a high-quality protein source for human food or domestic animal production, replace soy import, and reduce soy import related carbon dioxide emissions,” University of Jena professor Dr. Klaus Appenroth said.

Dive Insight:

Better-for-you consumer health trends continue to surge and evolve. Just a few years ago, soy was hailed by health-conscious consumers as a great dairy and meat substitute, but has now largely fallen out of favor due to its capacity to disrupt hormonal functioning and cause weight gain.

Soy has also lost popularity because of its impact on the environment. Consumers are no longer singularly interested in personal health, but also demand that products be ethically sourced and harvested. Since the size of soy’s carbon footprint has become public knowledge, consumers — and manufacturers, as a result — have been searching for alternative health additives.

At first glance, duckweed seems to fit the bill. It’s easy to grow, has a very light impact on the environment, and is full of the nutrients that consumers are interested in. But could there be a consumer ick factor here? The plant isn’t much different than seaweed and other unusual plants found in premium, niche food products, but it’s possible the name could alienate mainstream consumers.

If this is the case, manufacturers could incorporate the plant in their products and advertise its health benefits without specifically naming duckweed itself in product’s branding or on the front of product packaging. But then again, if there were ever a time when an ingredient as obscure as duckweed would shine, it would be now, at the peak of the protein craze

It’s unlikely that duckweed will have the same meteoric rise as soy protein, but it could carve out space in health drink and snack applications, especially if the plant doesn’t compromise taste or texture.

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Filed Under: Ingredients Sustainability
Top image credit: Pixabay