In some Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Burma and Laos, duckweed - a tiny aquatic flowering plant - is mixed into soups or curries, or tossed into omelettes and salads. Now a new study taps the weed as a potential food source across the world, particularly as a protein-packed ingredient for green smoothies and gluten-free baked goods.
"It could serve as a significant source of protein in the human diet," Gerhard Jahreis, professor at the Institute of Nutrition at Friedrick Schiller University Jena, told Seeker.
Jahreis along with additional German and Indian scientists, think various duckweeds has real nutritional value. Its protein content is similar to peas, lupins or rape, with a protein yield of 30 percent of dry weight. And it contains valuable omega-3 fatty acids, which has many health benefits, from reducing inflammation and lowering the risk of heart disease to potentially reducing asthma risk in children.
The plant also has characteristics that make it an appealing solution for communities struggling with malnutrition. Since the plant can also absorb trace elements that are absorbed in water, it can be used to relieve deficiency symptoms due to malnutrition with little expense and effort.
Duckweeds can be harvested from bodies of water and because they multiply very rapidly, they do not require any additional cultivable land. This can make the weed a strong nutritional candidate for parts of the world where the amount of farmland is decreasing.
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Indeed, there are some initial experimental facilities in Israel and the Netherlands where duckweeds are produced on an industrial scale. However, this has been done "only for production of biomass, not for nutrition," Jahreis said.
The scientists were inspired to study duckweed because they had a hunch that the plant could provide new sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids in world nutrition, Jahreis explained.
As it turns out, they were on to something. Duckweeds, which have been dubbed "green machines," could one day help combat world hunger and malnutrition.
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