U.K. scientists have found common garden cress can absorb vitamin B12 (cobalamin) and store the nutrient in its leaves. According to Food Ingredients, the findings from the University of Kent's School of Biosciences is significant because plants don't produce or need cobalamin, so those on vegetarian and vegan diets are more likely to have a vitamin B12 deficiency.
The cress was grown with greater concentrations of cobalamin for a week and the leaves were washed and analyzed. For confirmation, researchers then tested a type of the nutrient which shows up as fluorescent light when a laser is used. After this was fed to plants, the results showed cobalamin accumulation within part of the leaf cell.
These findings could lead to enriching plants with nutrients so vegetarians and vegans — and others who are reducing or eliminating animal products from their diets — might have access to the nutrients they need. The study was published in the journal Cell Chemical Biology.
This research has the potential to improve the lives of plant-based dieters. B12 keeps nerve and blood cells healthy, helps prevent anemia and assists in making DNA, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The scientific discovery also could have applications for supplying other nutrients through plants. If B12 can be taken up in cress, maybe other nutrients that are often lacking in certain diets — particularly in vegans who don't eat animal products — could be improved. In addition to B12, these nutrient deficiencies can include vitamins A and D, iodine, iron, zinc, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
For manufacturers, the research could encourage companies to incorporate vitamin-enhanced plants in their food and beverage products. Vegans and vegetarians might be lured by plant-based snacks featuring enhanced vitamin and mineral content — especially if the fortified content came through natural means. Such a value-add could amount to a major point of differentiation for products on crowded store shelves or online.
Food makers are paying close attention to the plant-based trend, and they are introducing more plants into their products. Nutrient-rich seaweed, nori, kelp and wakame are showing up in pasta and chips, and plant-based burgers, sausages and other meat-like products are offered along with animal-based meats in retail outlets. A plant-based "butter" made from the liquid residue of canned or cooked chickpeas debuted this spring.
As more people who aren't vegans or vegetarians experiment with plant-based foods for health, animal welfare, sustainability and other reasons, it's likely that plenty of other products will debut in the marketplace. Items advertising enhanced nutrition provided through the plants themselves could also have a competitive edge.