Mankai, a new high-protein aquatic plant strain of duckweed, has significant potential as a superfood and provides glycemic control after carbohydrate consumption, a team of researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) has determined.
Hila Zelicha, a registered dietician (R.D.) and Ph.D. student in the BGU Department of Public Health and her BGU colleagues researched the glycemic aspect of Mankai duckweed.
Her research was just published in Diabetes Care, the official journal of the American Diabetes Association.
In this new study, the researchers compared Mankai shake consumption to a yogurt shake equivalent in carbohydrates, protein, lipids, and calories.
Following two weeks of monitoring with glucose sensors, participants who drank the duckweed shake showed a much better response in a variety of measurements including lower glucose peak levels; morning fasting glucose levels; later peak time; and faster glucose evacuation. The participants also felt more full.
The research group, led by Prof. Iris Shai, a member of BGU’s S. Daniel Abraham International Center for Health and Nutrition and the School of Public Health, has found in several previous studies that Mankai duckweed has tremendous health potential as a superfood.
This new research is a sub-study of the Dietary Intervention Randomized Controlled Trial—Polyphenols Unprocessed (DIRECT PLUS) which explores the effects of green- Mediterranean diet.
The Mankai duckweed aquatic plant is being grown in Israel and other countries in a closed environment and is highly environmentally sustainable – requiring a fraction of the amount of water to produce each gram of protein compared to soy, kale or spinach.
It can also be grown year-round using hydroponic cultivation, which is another advantage.
Duckweed has been consumed for hundreds of years in Southeast Asia, where it is known as “vegetable meatball” due to its high-protein content – more than 45% of the dry matter.
It includes the complete protein profile of eggs, containing all nine essential and six conditional amino acids.
In addition, Mankai is very rich in polyphenols, mainly phenolic acids and flavonoids (including catechins), dietary fibers, minerals (including iron and zinc), vitamin A, vitamin B complex, and vitamin B12 , which is rarely produced by plants.
A previous duckweed study conducted by Alon Kaplan, a Ph.D. student in Prof. Shai’s lab, published in Clinical Nutrition, showed that the absorption of the essential amino acids from Mankai was similar to the soft cheese and plant (peas) equivalent in protein content, reinforcing its role as a high-quality protein source.
Also, the study suggested that Mankai is a unique plant source of vitamin B12.
Another study by the researchers in the Journal of Nutrition published earlier this year by BGU Ph.D. student Anat Yaskolka Meir R.D., indicates that a Mediterranean diet with Mankai, elevates iron and folic acid levels, despite low quantities of red meat.
This study also determined that iron from Mankai was efficient in treating iron-deficiency anemia in anemic rats to the same degree as the common treatment.
It is the aggregation of all of these properties which seem to make the easily integratable, tasteless and odorless plant, a good candidate to become a superfood.
Harvard University apparently agrees, Mankai smoothies were introduced in the Harvard School of Public Health cafeteria recently.
Hinoman, an Israeli agritech company, hopes to make mankai the new kale with an innovative hydroponic harvesting method revealed at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo earlier this week.
Israel was one of more than 95 countries represented at the event, gathered to present and discuss new developments to ensure sustainable food supplies for people around the world.
At 0.5 milimeters, mankai is a vegetable protein rich in minerals and fatty acids, even more of a superfood than soybeans or spinach.
Because of its mild taste, mankai can easily be added to food and beverages as a nutritious supplement or eaten in its raw form.
The protein itself is not a new invention; a product of Southeast Asia, people in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam are already familiar with its health benefits.
However, the hydroponic technology that Hinoman’s team of engineers and agronomists spent 8 years developing to cultivate it is. Grown in water without pesticides or soil under carefully controlled conditions, Hinoman can harvest their mankai daily year-round, producing higher quantities at faster rates.
As the world’s population continues to increase, efforts to ensure global food security become more urgent.
The UN projects that Earth will hold 9.6 billion people by 2050, and National Geographic reported in 2014 that 800 million already don’t have enough to eat as is. Hinoman hopes that its research will help change this trajectory.
“Hinoman is focused not only on how this planet will feed 9 billion people by 2050, but also to ensure that people will be fed in a healthy manner,” said CEO Ron Salpeter in a statement. “We believe that our all-nature solution contributes to that mission.”
More information: Hila Zelicha et al, The Effect of Wolffia globosa Mankai, a Green Aquatic Plant, on Postprandial Glycemic Response: A Randomized Crossover Controlled Trial, Diabetes Care (2019). DOI: 10.2337/dc18-2319
Journal information: Diabetes Care , Journal of Nutrition
Provided by American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev