The duckweed plant, also known as water lentils, is a flowering aquatic plant that floats on fresh water, used for culinary purposes by only a handful of societies in Southeast Asia.
But it has promising nutritious attributes—a study published in the journal Food Chemistry earlier this year revealed that “owing to the amino acid composition, the total protein of duckweeds qualifies as a high quality protein source for human nutrition.”
Riding on plant protein’s popularity, Parabel is cultivating duckweed in its $10m open hydroponic pond facility in Florida to manufacture its Lentein Complete ingredient, a “complete protein with very high BCAAs” according to Cecilia Wittbjer, VP of marketing at Parabel.
At the IFT Food Expo in Las Vegas last week, Wittbjer told NutraIngredients-USA that it will be ramping up production of the protein ingredient, branded Lentein Complete, by opening a new farm not far from Parabel's current one. She added that duckweed has one of the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid scores for a plant protein, referring to the method of evaluating protein quality, adopted by the US FDA and the FAO/WHO.
Ramping up production, providing more agricultural jobs
The company has grown from a small start-up in 2015 to having 200 plus employees today. The first product to include Lentein Complete, Clean Green Protein by Clean Machine launched in the spring of this year, reflects the type of customer Parabel is currently focusing on: sports nutrition targeting vegetarians and vegans.
She said that growing duckweed is providing alternative agricultural income for the state. Ideal climate and topography aside, “the reason why Florida works so well for us is that the farmers have problems with their orange groves, so they’re looking for some other crop to grow,” she said.
Florida’s citrus industry has been battling with an incurable bacterial disease called citrus greening since 2009, the Miami Herald reported, drastically reducing yields in a state where around 49% of total US citrus production happens, as of 2016.
More R&D for a versatile product
At the IFT expo, Parabel exhibited two beverages—plain duckweed protein and green tea + apple flavored, as well as triangular chips. Underneath a glass case, Parabel’s booth had dried duckweed fettuccine, showing the many potential applications for its ingredient. All of these were a deep green hue.
“We have some companies who aren’t interested in the green protein, so our [in-house R&D team] is at the moment researching to de-green the protein, to create a white or beige protein so it works better for customers,” she said.
“The cool thing about this crop is that it’s so new, it doesn’t really matter if someone has 50 years of experience because it’s not possible to apply to this crop,” she added. “So we have very young people in our company who are able to think creatively in any development work that they do.”