Could duckweed be the answer to the plant-based B12 problem?

US company Parabel claim to have found a natural source of the vitamin in the flowering aquatic plant.

22 January 2020

Just over a year ago, Food Spark brought news of a Californian company called Plantible Foods who had started working with an aquatic plant known as duckweed with the goal of harvesting a new plant-based protein.

Duckweeds, or water lentils, are flowering plants that float as ‘carpets’ on the surfaces of slow-moving, or still, ponds or lakes. They are said to have a sweet taste and are able to double in size every day, with this impressive sustainability making them an attractive proposition to the alternative protein market.

While duckweed protein hasn’t yet hit the UK mainstream, early last week, the plant hit the news once again following claims from another US-based plant protein company, Parabel, that duckweed contains high levels of natural bioactive vitamin B12, with the discovery said to be ‘potentially game changing’.

Could this be an answer to the B12 problem for vegans?

Sweet, sustainable, and the solution?

One of the issues with plant-based proteins, and a vegan diet in general, is the need to supplement them with a number of vitamins and nutrients, with B12 deficiencies particularly common.

A recent survey of 1,000 vegans and vegetarians from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS) found that 28% of vegans and 13% of vegetarians had a nutrient deficiency following a blood test. Vitamin B12 was one of the five main nutritional issues.

B12 is predominantly found in animal products, with the only vegan sources of B12 being some fortified plant milks, soy products and breakfast cereals. It helps maintain the body’s nerve and blood cells, while also being essential in their production, and also helps prevent a type of anemia that causes tiredness and loss of strength.

Solving the B12 problem in vegan products, considering its close animal ties, is an ongoing issue, with Moving Mountains’ B12 burger one of a limited number of products released last year that looked to tackle the problem in the mainstream.

But Parabel’s big reveal last week could mean big news for plant-powered NPD in the future, with Geoff Palmer, CEO and owner of vegan nutrition brand Clean Machine, telling Food Navigator that the revelation could have a big impact on vegans in the years to come.

“This could be a game changing event for the plant-based food community as it allows one to consume bioactive, natural, whole food plant-sourced B12,” said Palmer.

Health and wellness have become key food industry drivers over the past year, with more niche areas of wellbeing, such as digestive health, immune system aids and mental health, now being explored as consumers look for personalised solutions to their individual health needs.

Being able to fill key nutritional needs has become a major consumer concern, with the development of a viable, natural B12 solution for the growing vegan and flexitarian movements potentially part of the next phase of the plant-based wave.

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