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Apparently We Should All Be Drinking Pond Scum

A food company has developed a high protein, amino acid-packed powder using lemnoideae, a plant that grows on almost any water supply and doubles in size every 16 to 32 hours. (Also known as pond scum).
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
July 15, 2015, 12:43pm
Photo via Flickr user Brad Smith

Bottom-feeding cretin. Waste of good oxygen. Pond scum.

All great insults to hurl at your good-for-nothing ex, but something you'd consider eating? Ew, no. Do you want a verbal dressing down too?

But just hold fire on the aquatic-themed insults for a moment. International food company Parabel claims to have developed a high protein powder from a non-genetically modified plant that grows on almost any water supply, and doubles in size every 16 to 32 hours.

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Ground into a whey-like powder called "Lentein," the substance is 68 percent protein and contains higher levels of amino acid than soy. Combined with its high yield and ease of cultivation, Parabel claims that the plant behind the powder could be the answer to growing food demand. It even goes so far as to call Lentein "the world's most complete and sustainable food source."

READ MORE: We Should Be Eating Seaweed by the Bucketload

And the plant in question? Lemnoideae, an aquatic plant that flowers in still bodies of fresh water. Also known as "duckweed" or the funky green pond scum that appears on the paddling pool you forgot to put away last summer.

Despite such inedible connotations, Parabel's pond scum powder was recognised this week with an award at the Institute of Food Technologies conference in Chicago.

Speaking to The Daily Mail, the company's director of marketing Cecilia Wittbjers explained that the potential of duckweed as a food source was discovered in 2011, when the company was researching algae growth.

"It's a very common plant that grows all over the world but grows best at the equator. You can make anything you make with soy or whey powder. Everyone wants to fortify products with protein," she said.

Parabel isn't the first to see pond scum as more than just a gardening chore. Duckweed is a licensed animal feed in Europe (those pigs really have their trotters on the pulse of upcoming food trends) and Wolffia arrhiza, a genera of the plant, has been eaten like a vegetable in Burma, Thailand, and Laos for generations.

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Speaking to the FoodNavigator-USA website in April, Wittbjer described Lentein as having "a slightly grass-like taste and a green colour" that "works well in everything from chips, crackers, and bars to juices." She also noted the powder's suitability for protein beverages and shakes, due to its solubility in water.

However unappetising the concept of pond-flavoured crisps may be (duckweed is known "water lentils" in France and Spain, if that helps?), the Lentein could be a sustainable alternative to other plant-based proteins. According to FoodNavigator-USA, the water from the culture system used to grow the plant is recycled, and no chemical solvents or heat are used in the extraction process. In comparison, the production of soy has been blamed for swallowing up huge swathes of tropical Brazil.

READ MORE: Drinking Poison Control Medicine Is the Newest Bougie Health Fad

Parabel is currently building a growing facility in Uganda and plans to produce 2,000 tons on Lentein in the first year, but some experts have questioned this "superfood" scum.

Speaking to The Daily Mail, professor of Plant and Soil biology at the University of Sheffield, Duncan Cameron raised concerns about the amount of water needed to cultivate duckweed on such a large scale.

"Nothing should be seen as a magic bullet. The resource cost of any novel agricultural intervention needs to be weighed up very carefully. But just because an idea sounds radical is no reason to throw it out in my mind," he said.

It seems our green juices are safe from essence of pond—for now.