The plant that can be grown with saltwater and filters out microplastics

A South Korean company has been the first to create a range of products from this unique ingredient, spanning categories from bakery to seasoning. 

23 October 2019
image credit: Getty Images

A plant that is grown using seawater has been used to create food products for the first time. It also boasts the nifty ability to filter out 100% of microplastics.

South Korean food technology company Phyto Corporation has developed over 30 products from the plant, ranging from flour to drinks.

Known as salcornia, it belongs to a species of salt-accumulating plants called halophytes, which grow on land near seasides around the world. However, it had never been used in food before because it was considered too salty to eat.

Phyto founder and CEO Duke Kim saw the potential, however, of the sustainable food resource and set out to tackle the salty problem.

“My idea when establishing Phyto Corporation was that via our (now-patented) desalination technologies, we would be able to develop a 100% plant-based salt by separating it from salcornia, as well as make a new superfood with the desalted remaining part to solve global food shortages,” he told Food Spark’s sister site Food Navigator.

While salt was an obvious choice for a first product, the PhytoSalt also has the unusual claim of being 100% microplastic-free – an issue that has only just began to emerge in research circles in terms of the impact on human health. Kim said the plant cell membrane filters out the microplastics in seawater.

He also boasts that the plant itself is a health powerhouse.

“It also contains a large amount of mineral and dietary fibre, seven times more potassium than potatoes, 10 times more iron than spinach, as much calcium as six servings of milk as well as essential amino acids in sufficient amounts for daily dietary requirements,” he added.

Caffeine and calorie free

But Phyto hasn’t just stuck with salt for its product line-up. It has also created a flour alternative called PhytoMeal, which can be used in everything from bread to cakes, cereals, cookies, chips, pasta and hamburger buns.

The company said the flour also contains 40% less calories and 60% more calcium than regular flour.

“This is generally used by mixing with regular flour [to bring down calories] and this would also remove the need to use additional salt for whatever product PhytoMeal is used for,” said Kim. “The saltiness levels can also be controlled using our technology.”

A fermented sauce has also been made, along with dietary supplements  and teas, including one that purports to have memory-enhancing properties.

“MemoryTea is also zero calories and caffeine-free,” explained Kim. “Our main target market for this drink is not only elderly customers, but students.”

The tea is currently available in South Korea’s largest supermarket chain, while the salt will roll out into stores in December. Both products will then head to international markets like the US, Europe, Singapore and China.

New farming system

On the sustainability side of things, the plant could address some climate change concerns.

“Salcornia can be mass cultivated by seawater agriculture, which is a new method of agriculture that is highly practical during times of food shortage that result for water shortage,” he explained. “It also does not require the use of additional fresh water, fertilisers or pesticides.”

Meanwhile, Phyto Corporation has been selected to participate in Terra, a global innovation accelerator that aims to fuel ground-breaking transformation in the food and agriculture industry by bringing start-ups together with established companies like Beta San Miguel, GrainCorp, Griffith Foods, OSI and Tate & Lyle.

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