Mankai duckweed plant shows potential as a superfood

Ben-Gurion University

Mankai, a new high-protein aquatic plant strain of duckweed, has significant potential as a superfood and provides glycemic control after carbohydrate consumption, according to a new study by researchers at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, Israel, and published in the journal Diabetes Care.

In the study, a sub-study of the Dietary Intervention Randomized Controlled Trial-Polyphenols Unprocessed (DIRECT PLUS), which explores the effects of a green Mediterranean diet, researchers led by Hila Zelicha, RD, and overseen by Iris Shai, PhD, 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 said they felt fuller, according to the study abstract.

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.

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 percent 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.

Previous studies have found the absorption of the essential amino acids from Mankai was similar to the soft cheese and pea 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 indicates 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.

Researchers are continuing to collaborate internationally on evaluating duckweed.