Parabel CEO: ‘Duckweed has been in literature for years, but nobody has learned to develop it’

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Parabel grows its duckweed to make Lentein in hydroponics in Florida. Photo: Parabel
Parabel grows its duckweed to make Lentein in hydroponics in Florida. Photo: Parabel

Related tags plant protein Sustainability hydroponics

Seven years since Parabel started commercializing protein derived from water lentils—also known as duckweed or Lemnaceae—the company found that supplement formulators in the US are more reluctant to use the ingredient than other plant-sourced proteins.

It’s not easy commercializing a plant-based ingredient for human nutrition when this plant hasn’t been traditionally used for human consumption.

A search for ‘pea protein’ on Amazon returned hundreds of plant-based powder supplements. A search for ‘duckweed protein,’ on the other hand, returned live plants for use as fish feed or pond and aquarium decoration.

Despite this, Florida-based Parabel​has spent approximately seven years researching and commercializing their flagship ingredient Lentein, a protein extracted from duckweed. So far, in the US, less than 10 finished products in the supplement space feature the protein, manufactured by mid to smaller brands like Clean Green Protein, Falcon Protein, and Real Source.

“Most people in the food industry have grown up or gotten to where they are today with full knowledge of products that are available,” ​Anthony Tiarks, CEO of Parabel, told NutraIngredients-USA.

“When you bring them something new to the table, many of them are left puzzled because they’ve never seen it. I don’t believe many of them even think it’s possible to come up with a completely new food source.”

But all the hard work may be paying off soon— the company announced Lentein’s no objections letter from the FDA​ for its self-affirmed GRAS status in August, which means the FDA has no objections to Parabel’s safety claims, and this can give formulators a confidence boost to use the ingredient, Tiarks said.

Already, more products with Lentein are slated to launch in the US before the end of this year by “some quite large brands,” ​Cecilia Wittbjer, VP of marketing at Parabel told us this week, though she couldn’t share more specifics.

Around the world, formulators are using Lentein to fortify food products with more plant-sourced protein in everything from pasta to noodles to baked goods.

Duckweed has been in scientific literature for years and years, especially in the realm of animal nutrition, Tiarks said, “but I don’t think anybody has learned to develop it or farm it well.”

The company currently produces 300 metric tons of product per year. A second farm, due to open in early 2019, will produce up to an additional 3,000 tons once completed.

The relatively low carbon footprint and environmental impact from producing Lentein can be a boon for both finished product formulators and consumers, Tiarks opined.

“We build farms, we buy everything for the farms, we grow, we harvest, we process—we can grow every day and harvest it every day, which is unheard of in yield for a crop like this,” ​he said.

“I think the last major opportunity in plant protein was soybeans, and that was 70 to 80 years ago,” ​he added. “And then we come along with something that’s disruptive.”

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