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Skip the Steak, Scientists Want You to Eat Duckweed for Protein


Your idea of a protein-packed plate might be more akin to a chicken dinner or a bowl of yogurt but new research is suggesting that a protein source that should be in your diet doesn't come from the produce or dairy section -- it grows in water and looks like something, well that ducks eat.


Researchers from the University of Jena in Germany, together with colleagues throughout Germany and India, are making a case for adding duckweed varieties like Wolffia globosa (more commonly known as Asian watermeal) to diets. This is thanks to an array of nutritional benefits that come with eating the plant, which, before now, would sooner have you thinking of a pond life than dinner. 


(TRY: our favorite protein-packed recipes.)


According to the scientists, duckweed is a major protein powerhouse, packing about as much as lupini beans or peas, and is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids,. Duckweed also comes with the benefit of multiplying super rapidly – the plant can basically double in 48 hours – right in a body of water, meaning that growing the green doesn’t really require farmland. So far there is little cultivation as a commercial food source, except in Asia where varieties like Asian watermeal are grown and used in soups or omelets. 


That is set to change as companies, like Green Onyx, are working to bring duckweed to the masses. This Israeli startup is working to make domestic duckweed cultivation a reality via a standalone appliance that grows duckweed right in your home. Green Onyx works specifically with the variety of duckweed called Wolffia arrhiza, or khai nam, which looks pretty much like green caviar and boasts plenty of dietary fibers and high vitamin and mineral content, in addition to the usual perks of the plant.


(GROW: produce inside with this countertop nanofarm.)


Before duckweed can be deemed the most super of all superfoods, there are some downsides. One is that duckweed readily absorbs trace elements of just about anything in the water where it grows. That could be good news if you’re thinking about utilizing duckweed as a tool for water purification, but not so much if you’re cultivating duckweed to eat in water that has any kind of chemical traces in it. That means that one of the keys to successfully growing duckweed as food will require some major attention to the kind of water being used to do the job.