Mankai duckweed, a high-protein strain of the aquatic plant made by Israeli startup Hinoman, has the potential for controlling glycemic effects after carbohydrate consumption and could become a superfood alternative plant-protein source, a team of researchers from Israel, the U.S. and Germany found. Their study was published in the journal Diabetes Care.
The researchers compared 20 participants' glucose sensor results after they drank Mankai shakes and then again following the consumption of yogurt shake equivalents. Those who consumed the duckweed shake had a better response to glucose measurements, and they also felt fuller, the researchers said.
"It is the aggregation of all of these properties which seem to make the easily integratable, tasteless, and odorless plant, a good candidate to become a superfood," the research team said, according to Food Navigator.
Duckweed, also known as water lentils or lemna, offers a long list of advantages compared to other plant-based protein sources. The aquatic plant grows quickly in open hydroponic systems and doubles its biomass within 24 to 36 hours. It only takes half an hour to process the ingredient from farm to table, according to the Parabel ingredients firm. It also boasts an amino acid profile comparable to whey and superior to soy.
Parabel plans to introduce a water lentil-based protein ingredient by the end of this year, which the Florida company said is an allergen-free and non-GMO substitute. Duckweed-sourced protein also could be used in place of soy or pea protein in plant-based products such as burgers, shakes, bars and other foods and beverages. Consumers wanting to avoid soy and food makers concerned about pea protein supply might be particularly interested in trying it.
California-based Plantible Foods is another company looking to scale-up production of duckweed for use in protein ingredients. Its co-founder, Maurits van de Ven, told Food Navigator last year that technological advancements had made it easier to produce high yields of duckweed as an agricultural product.
Besides being fast-growing and containing more than 45% protein, duckweed has a complete protein profile similar to eggs — with all nine essential amino acids and six conditional ones, Food Navigator said. Plantible's protein product functions much like an egg white, van de Ven told the publication. Duckweed also has fiber, minerals and vitamins A, B complex and B12, which aren't often seen in plants.
Now that this recent study has shown duckweed's potential for managing glucose levels, the ingredient may find a role in foods and beverages marketed to the growing number of consumers with diabetes or pre-diabetes. More than 7% of the U.S. population has diabetes, mainly Type 2, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports is up from 4.4% in 2000.
One problem duckweed — or whatever it ends up being called in the marketplace — will likely have is gaining name familiarity. The name duckweed, in its current form, creates confusion and does little to help this potential superfood stand out from others on the market.
If the ingredient does become more commonplace, things may change and people could start seeking it out as another plant-based protein option. Superfood status may follow, but duckweed protein manufacturers will have to wait a while longer to find out.