For years, vegans and people allergic to eggs have searched for the perfect substitute. A Facebook group finally discovered that the liquid in cans of chickpeas behaves very comparably in baked goods, especially in meringue, and they named it “aquafaba.” However, the search for other options continued, specifically with protein in mind. It seems that the California start-up Plantible Foods might have found the answer: duckweed.
Duckweed is a flowering green plant you’ll find floating on slow-moving or flat water’s surface. It contains a complete protein more digestible than the protein in peas or rice. How do you get that protein into a usable form? Plantible performs a cold-press extraction process, ending up a white protein very similar to the white of an egg. Best of all, it has a neutral taste, so it can be used in a wide variety of foods. Right now, Plantible isn’t sure how it can be used, exactly, but they’re very optimistic. They plan to begin work with food scientists.
Why has it taken so long to discover duckweed’s potential? Traditionally, the crop’s growth has been hard to control, making it unreliable. Now, agricultural technology makes it much easier. According to Plantible, they are able to harvest duckweed daily. This makes it stand out in a world where climate change threatens crops gathered annually.
Plantible Foods isn’t the only brand embracing duckweed. In 2015, the Israel-based Hinoman company launched a high-protein strand of duckweed based on a species from Southeast Asia. Known as Mankai, this plant uses ten times less water than soy, kale, and spinach. Hinoman spent eight years researching and developing this teeny-tiny plant. In 2016, the company scaled up its production with plans to open a US facility, and in 2017, they sold exclusive Japanese rights to Ajinomoto Co., Inc. Unlike Plantible’s duckweed, Mankai has a vegetal taste, so it only works in certain applications. Time will tell if Plantible’s neutral protein will end up in a food near you!