From dulse to duckweed: does the future of protein lie in our oceans and ponds?

From dulse to duckweed: does the future of protein lie in our oceans and ponds?

By
Laura Robinson
February 18, 2020

From dulse to duckweed - does the future of protein lie in our oceans and ponds?

The murky tendrils that caressed your legs as you explored the sea as a child. The green gloop covering a pond. For most of us, these were our first – not too appetising – encounters with algae and aquatic plants.

An essential part of many Asian cuisines – from miso soup to sushi rolls – the strong odour and taste of these nutrient-packed sea vegetables were long considered too much of a turn-off for Western consumers. But with millennials and Gen Z more willing to experiment with new, natural, plant-based protein sources and top chefs singing its praises, algae has been hailed the new kale.

In fact, the global algae protein market size was estimated at USD 690.8 million in 2018 and is now expected to expand at a CAGR of 6.71% from 2020 to 2025. While North America still dominates, European demand has grown significantly in the last few years, owing to the expansion of marine aquaculture in countries such as Norway, Denmark and Ireland.

Don’t know your dulse from your duckweed? Let’s delve into the depths of this emerging market.

Trend drivers: health-conscious consumers and low-impact protein

Health-conscious millennials with busy lifestyles are looking to supplements, functional foods or the latest superfoods as a convenient way to get their nutrients. Algae and aquatic plants are packed with vitamins and antioxidants and could offer another way for vegans and vegetarians to get enough of the right kinds of omega-3 fatty acids – and even vitamin B12 - in their diets.

At the same time, 60% of 22 to 37 year olds believe that their food choices have an impact on the environment. Many are also looking for natural, unprocessed or minimally processed products that give them a protein boost, without the carbon footprint. Algae and aquatic plants are not only a great source of high-quality plant protein but are also a very ecologically efficient food source. This has led some experts to claim that if they had one silver bullet for the future of sustainable food, it would in fact be green and loaded with algae.  

All about algae and aquatic plants: from macro to micro.

Macroalgae - aka seaweed - can be harvested naturally or grown by aquaculture. Protein levels vary by species, but red seaweed is the clear-cut winner. Nori – the green black edible packaging for our sushi – is probably the variety that most regularly graces our plates. But its lesser-known cousins Kombu, Wakame and Dulse also have salty, rich, umami taste, with Dulse apparently taking on an almost bacon-like taste when cooked.

Microalgae on the other hand are one cell algae and are typically grown in freshwater tanks. The stars of the show here are Spirulina and Chlorella, each containing around 50 - 70% protein. And then there’s duckweed, aka Lemna or water lentils. This aquatic plant doubles its mass every 36 hours and typically contains 25% to 45% protein.

Use cases: from superfood bowls to seaweed salsa and algae mayonnaise

Until recently, macroalgae was typically transformed into thickening agents for puddings, chewing gum, jams and jellies. But thanks to a number of top chefs discovering its rich depth of flavour, sea vegetables or sea greens - as they’ve been rechristened - are now making a splash on restaurant menus. Sweetgreen, an American fast casual restaurant chain, collaborated with chef David Chang to create a new “Tingly Sweet Potato and Kelp bowl”, due to be launched this March. And a number of ready-to-use products – from seaweed butter and tea to snacks and salsa – are appearing on retail shelves.

Microalgae has been most commonly used in supplements or to enrich the nutritional content of existing products – from bright green smoothie shots and functional beverages to noodles and pasta. Microalgae and duckweed also make great binding agents, meaning that they can replace egg whites in products like mayonnaise and plant-based burgers. In fact, microalgae is so versatile that Paris-based start-up, Algama, claims to have over 200 prototypes in the pipeline, ready to upscale.

Deep dive into duckweed:  Parabel and LemnaPro

Parabel - a Florida-based company specialising in water lentils - wants to power a food revolution. Thanks to a patented growth system, the harvesting process can take as little as 30 minutes from farm to table and they’re able to recycle 98% of the water they use. Their flagship product, Lentein, is a powder that is higher in essential amino acids than soy or pea protein. Through a number of partnerships and their own direct-to-consumer brand - Real Source - Lentein has already been used in a range of cold pressed juices, protein beverages and healthy snacks.

Switzerland-based start-up LemnaPro is now looking to take on the European market. Founder Cyrill Hess recognised the potential of Wolffia – a specific type of duckweed – while researching his Master’s thesis. After connecting with Melanie Binggeli, who already had experience of working on alternative protein sources, the pair secured a 12-month fellowship to develop their product. They’re now preparing to launch another non-dilutive funding round and are eager to work with partners along the whole supply chain.

Challenges: Consumer habits, legal hoops and creating new value chains

Even if consumer interest in seaweed is growing, product variety remains relatively limited in mainstream European retailers. Many consumers also struggle to see how they can build it into their everyday meals. Experts therefore see the biggest potential in ready-to-eat snacks and food service creations that treat food-loving, health-conscious millennials to new taste experiences.

Duckweed innovators will also need to jump through a number of legal hoops. Lemna Pro, for example, will need to secure approval from the European Union before Wolffia can make it onto retailers’ shelves. And that’s before they take on the task of setting up an entirely new value chain. But the founders remain confident that it’ll be worth the effort when protein-hungry millennials are able to do something good for the planet by just adding a dollop of their coveted “green caviar” to boost the taste and nutrients in their superfood salads.

Business opportunities

Manufacturers

Food Service

  • Introduce an algae-based dish into your specials menu – from salads and soups to risottos and pizza toppings!
  • Consider offering microalgae shots to add a functional benefit and a flash of colour to juices, smoothies, cocktails and lattes.

Retail

  • Trial some seaweed products by stocking them in your plant-based section or alongside other Asian products to tempt consumers to give them a try.
  • Consider adding a few natural protein powders to your health and fitness range or featuring them alongside fresh produce, as consumers start to think about shaping up for the spring.

Written by
Laura Robinson

From policy geek to digital consultant, Laura has always enjoyed bringing people together through words or tools to drive positive change. She is most proud of finally taking the leap into entrepreneurship by founding Pink Pear Agency - a network of passionate specialists who help food businesses grow innovative projects and share their stories with the world. Laura is currently interested in project development and management, digital tools, content strategy and copywriting.

Become a FoodHack+ member to get unlimited access

  • Read Unlimited Articles
  • Access Member Directory
  • Get Event Discounts

From dulse to duckweed - does the future of protein lie in our oceans and ponds?

The murky tendrils that caressed your legs as you explored the sea as a child. The green gloop covering a pond. For most of us, these were our first – not too appetising – encounters with algae and aquatic plants.

An essential part of many Asian cuisines – from miso soup to sushi rolls – the strong odour and taste of these nutrient-packed sea vegetables were long considered too much of a turn-off for Western consumers. But with millennials and Gen Z more willing to experiment with new, natural, plant-based protein sources and top chefs singing its praises, algae has been hailed the new kale.

In fact, the global algae protein market size was estimated at USD 690.8 million in 2018 and is now expected to expand at a CAGR of 6.71% from 2020 to 2025. While North America still dominates, European demand has grown significantly in the last few years, owing to the expansion of marine aquaculture in countries such as Norway, Denmark and Ireland.

Don’t know your dulse from your duckweed? Let’s delve into the depths of this emerging market.

Trend drivers: health-conscious consumers and low-impact protein

Health-conscious millennials with busy lifestyles are looking to supplements, functional foods or the latest superfoods as a convenient way to get their nutrients. Algae and aquatic plants are packed with vitamins and antioxidants and could offer another way for vegans and vegetarians to get enough of the right kinds of omega-3 fatty acids – and even vitamin B12 - in their diets.

At the same time, 60% of 22 to 37 year olds believe that their food choices have an impact on the environment. Many are also looking for natural, unprocessed or minimally processed products that give them a protein boost, without the carbon footprint. Algae and aquatic plants are not only a great source of high-quality plant protein but are also a very ecologically efficient food source. This has led some experts to claim that if they had one silver bullet for the future of sustainable food, it would in fact be green and loaded with algae.  

All about algae and aquatic plants: from macro to micro.

Macroalgae - aka seaweed - can be harvested naturally or grown by aquaculture. Protein levels vary by species, but red seaweed is the clear-cut winner. Nori – the green black edible packaging for our sushi – is probably the variety that most regularly graces our plates. But its lesser-known cousins Kombu, Wakame and Dulse also have salty, rich, umami taste, with Dulse apparently taking on an almost bacon-like taste when cooked.

Microalgae on the other hand are one cell algae and are typically grown in freshwater tanks. The stars of the show here are Spirulina and Chlorella, each containing around 50 - 70% protein. And then there’s duckweed, aka Lemna or water lentils. This aquatic plant doubles its mass every 36 hours and typically contains 25% to 45% protein.

Use cases: from superfood bowls to seaweed salsa and algae mayonnaise

Until recently, macroalgae was typically transformed into thickening agents for puddings, chewing gum, jams and jellies. But thanks to a number of top chefs discovering its rich depth of flavour, sea vegetables or sea greens - as they’ve been rechristened - are now making a splash on restaurant menus. Sweetgreen, an American fast casual restaurant chain, collaborated with chef David Chang to create a new “Tingly Sweet Potato and Kelp bowl”, due to be launched this March. And a number of ready-to-use products – from seaweed butter and tea to snacks and salsa – are appearing on retail shelves.

Microalgae has been most commonly used in supplements or to enrich the nutritional content of existing products – from bright green smoothie shots and functional beverages to noodles and pasta. Microalgae and duckweed also make great binding agents, meaning that they can replace egg whites in products like mayonnaise and plant-based burgers. In fact, microalgae is so versatile that Paris-based start-up, Algama, claims to have over 200 prototypes in the pipeline, ready to upscale.

Deep dive into duckweed:  Parabel and LemnaPro

Parabel - a Florida-based company specialising in water lentils - wants to power a food revolution. Thanks to a patented growth system, the harvesting process can take as little as 30 minutes from farm to table and they’re able to recycle 98% of the water they use. Their flagship product, Lentein, is a powder that is higher in essential amino acids than soy or pea protein. Through a number of partnerships and their own direct-to-consumer brand - Real Source - Lentein has already been used in a range of cold pressed juices, protein beverages and healthy snacks.

Switzerland-based start-up LemnaPro is now looking to take on the European market. Founder Cyrill Hess recognised the potential of Wolffia – a specific type of duckweed – while researching his Master’s thesis. After connecting with Melanie Binggeli, who already had experience of working on alternative protein sources, the pair secured a 12-month fellowship to develop their product. They’re now preparing to launch another non-dilutive funding round and are eager to work with partners along the whole supply chain.

Challenges: Consumer habits, legal hoops and creating new value chains

Even if consumer interest in seaweed is growing, product variety remains relatively limited in mainstream European retailers. Many consumers also struggle to see how they can build it into their everyday meals. Experts therefore see the biggest potential in ready-to-eat snacks and food service creations that treat food-loving, health-conscious millennials to new taste experiences.

Duckweed innovators will also need to jump through a number of legal hoops. Lemna Pro, for example, will need to secure approval from the European Union before Wolffia can make it onto retailers’ shelves. And that’s before they take on the task of setting up an entirely new value chain. But the founders remain confident that it’ll be worth the effort when protein-hungry millennials are able to do something good for the planet by just adding a dollop of their coveted “green caviar” to boost the taste and nutrients in their superfood salads.

Business opportunities

Manufacturers

Food Service

  • Introduce an algae-based dish into your specials menu – from salads and soups to risottos and pizza toppings!
  • Consider offering microalgae shots to add a functional benefit and a flash of colour to juices, smoothies, cocktails and lattes.

Retail

  • Trial some seaweed products by stocking them in your plant-based section or alongside other Asian products to tempt consumers to give them a try.
  • Consider adding a few natural protein powders to your health and fitness range or featuring them alongside fresh produce, as consumers start to think about shaping up for the spring.

Become a FoodHack+ member to get unlimited access

  • Read Unlimited Articles
  • Access Member Directory
  • Join a Global Community
UPGRADE NOW
Cancel anytime

From dulse to duckweed - does the future of protein lie in our oceans and ponds?

The murky tendrils that caressed your legs as you explored the sea as a child. The green gloop covering a pond. For most of us, these were our first – not too appetising – encounters with algae and aquatic plants.

An essential part of many Asian cuisines – from miso soup to sushi rolls – the strong odour and taste of these nutrient-packed sea vegetables were long considered too much of a turn-off for Western consumers. But with millennials and Gen Z more willing to experiment with new, natural, plant-based protein sources and top chefs singing its praises, algae has been hailed the new kale.

In fact, the global algae protein market size was estimated at USD 690.8 million in 2018 and is now expected to expand at a CAGR of 6.71% from 2020 to 2025. While North America still dominates, European demand has grown significantly in the last few years, owing to the expansion of marine aquaculture in countries such as Norway, Denmark and Ireland.

Don’t know your dulse from your duckweed? Let’s delve into the depths of this emerging market.

Trend drivers: health-conscious consumers and low-impact protein

Health-conscious millennials with busy lifestyles are looking to supplements, functional foods or the latest superfoods as a convenient way to get their nutrients. Algae and aquatic plants are packed with vitamins and antioxidants and could offer another way for vegans and vegetarians to get enough of the right kinds of omega-3 fatty acids – and even vitamin B12 - in their diets.

At the same time, 60% of 22 to 37 year olds believe that their food choices have an impact on the environment. Many are also looking for natural, unprocessed or minimally processed products that give them a protein boost, without the carbon footprint. Algae and aquatic plants are not only a great source of high-quality plant protein but are also a very ecologically efficient food source. This has led some experts to claim that if they had one silver bullet for the future of sustainable food, it would in fact be green and loaded with algae.  

All about algae and aquatic plants: from macro to micro.

Macroalgae - aka seaweed - can be harvested naturally or grown by aquaculture. Protein levels vary by species, but red seaweed is the clear-cut winner. Nori – the green black edible packaging for our sushi – is probably the variety that most regularly graces our plates. But its lesser-known cousins Kombu, Wakame and Dulse also have salty, rich, umami taste, with Dulse apparently taking on an almost bacon-like taste when cooked.

Microalgae on the other hand are one cell algae and are typically grown in freshwater tanks. The stars of the show here are Spirulina and Chlorella, each containing around 50 - 70% protein. And then there’s duckweed, aka Lemna or water lentils. This aquatic plant doubles its mass every 36 hours and typically contains 25% to 45% protein.

Use cases: from superfood bowls to seaweed salsa and algae mayonnaise

Until recently, macroalgae was typically transformed into thickening agents for puddings, chewing gum, jams and jellies. But thanks to a number of top chefs discovering its rich depth of flavour, sea vegetables or sea greens - as they’ve been rechristened - are now making a splash on restaurant menus. Sweetgreen, an American fast casual restaurant chain, collaborated with chef David Chang to create a new “Tingly Sweet Potato and Kelp bowl”, due to be launched this March. And a number of ready-to-use products – from seaweed butter and tea to snacks and salsa – are appearing on retail shelves.

Microalgae has been most commonly used in supplements or to enrich the nutritional content of existing products – from bright green smoothie shots and functional beverages to noodles and pasta. Microalgae and duckweed also make great binding agents, meaning that they can replace egg whites in products like mayonnaise and plant-based burgers. In fact, microalgae is so versatile that Paris-based start-up, Algama, claims to have over 200 prototypes in the pipeline, ready to upscale.

Deep dive into duckweed:  Parabel and LemnaPro

Parabel - a Florida-based company specialising in water lentils - wants to power a food revolution. Thanks to a patented growth system, the harvesting process can take as little as 30 minutes from farm to table and they’re able to recycle 98% of the water they use. Their flagship product, Lentein, is a powder that is higher in essential amino acids than soy or pea protein. Through a number of partnerships and their own direct-to-consumer brand - Real Source - Lentein has already been used in a range of cold pressed juices, protein beverages and healthy snacks.

Switzerland-based start-up LemnaPro is now looking to take on the European market. Founder Cyrill Hess recognised the potential of Wolffia – a specific type of duckweed – while researching his Master’s thesis. After connecting with Melanie Binggeli, who already had experience of working on alternative protein sources, the pair secured a 12-month fellowship to develop their product. They’re now preparing to launch another non-dilutive funding round and are eager to work with partners along the whole supply chain.

Challenges: Consumer habits, legal hoops and creating new value chains

Even if consumer interest in seaweed is growing, product variety remains relatively limited in mainstream European retailers. Many consumers also struggle to see how they can build it into their everyday meals. Experts therefore see the biggest potential in ready-to-eat snacks and food service creations that treat food-loving, health-conscious millennials to new taste experiences.

Duckweed innovators will also need to jump through a number of legal hoops. Lemna Pro, for example, will need to secure approval from the European Union before Wolffia can make it onto retailers’ shelves. And that’s before they take on the task of setting up an entirely new value chain. But the founders remain confident that it’ll be worth the effort when protein-hungry millennials are able to do something good for the planet by just adding a dollop of their coveted “green caviar” to boost the taste and nutrients in their superfood salads.

Business opportunities

Manufacturers

Food Service

  • Introduce an algae-based dish into your specials menu – from salads and soups to risottos and pizza toppings!
  • Consider offering microalgae shots to add a functional benefit and a flash of colour to juices, smoothies, cocktails and lattes.

Retail

  • Trial some seaweed products by stocking them in your plant-based section or alongside other Asian products to tempt consumers to give them a try.
  • Consider adding a few natural protein powders to your health and fitness range or featuring them alongside fresh produce, as consumers start to think about shaping up for the spring.

From dulse to duckweed - does the future of protein lie in our oceans and ponds?

The murky tendrils that caressed your legs as you explored the sea as a child. The green gloop covering a pond. For most of us, these were our first – not too appetising – encounters with algae and aquatic plants.

An essential part of many Asian cuisines – from miso soup to sushi rolls – the strong odour and taste of these nutrient-packed sea vegetables were long considered too much of a turn-off for Western consumers. But with millennials and Gen Z more willing to experiment with new, natural, plant-based protein sources and top chefs singing its praises, algae has been hailed the new kale.

In fact, the global algae protein market size was estimated at USD 690.8 million in 2018 and is now expected to expand at a CAGR of 6.71% from 2020 to 2025. While North America still dominates, European demand has grown significantly in the last few years, owing to the expansion of marine aquaculture in countries such as Norway, Denmark and Ireland.

Don’t know your dulse from your duckweed? Let’s delve into the depths of this emerging market.

Trend drivers: health-conscious consumers and low-impact protein

Health-conscious millennials with busy lifestyles are looking to supplements, functional foods or the latest superfoods as a convenient way to get their nutrients. Algae and aquatic plants are packed with vitamins and antioxidants and could offer another way for vegans and vegetarians to get enough of the right kinds of omega-3 fatty acids – and even vitamin B12 - in their diets.

At the same time, 60% of 22 to 37 year olds believe that their food choices have an impact on the environment. Many are also looking for natural, unprocessed or minimally processed products that give them a protein boost, without the carbon footprint. Algae and aquatic plants are not only a great source of high-quality plant protein but are also a very ecologically efficient food source. This has led some experts to claim that if they had one silver bullet for the future of sustainable food, it would in fact be green and loaded with algae.  

All about algae and aquatic plants: from macro to micro.

Macroalgae - aka seaweed - can be harvested naturally or grown by aquaculture. Protein levels vary by species, but red seaweed is the clear-cut winner. Nori – the green black edible packaging for our sushi – is probably the variety that most regularly graces our plates. But its lesser-known cousins Kombu, Wakame and Dulse also have salty, rich, umami taste, with Dulse apparently taking on an almost bacon-like taste when cooked.

Microalgae on the other hand are one cell algae and are typically grown in freshwater tanks. The stars of the show here are Spirulina and Chlorella, each containing around 50 - 70% protein. And then there’s duckweed, aka Lemna or water lentils. This aquatic plant doubles its mass every 36 hours and typically contains 25% to 45% protein.

Use cases: from superfood bowls to seaweed salsa and algae mayonnaise

Until recently, macroalgae was typically transformed into thickening agents for puddings, chewing gum, jams and jellies. But thanks to a number of top chefs discovering its rich depth of flavour, sea vegetables or sea greens - as they’ve been rechristened - are now making a splash on restaurant menus. Sweetgreen, an American fast casual restaurant chain, collaborated with chef David Chang to create a new “Tingly Sweet Potato and Kelp bowl”, due to be launched this March. And a number of ready-to-use products – from seaweed butter and tea to snacks and salsa – are appearing on retail shelves.

Microalgae has been most commonly used in supplements or to enrich the nutritional content of existing products – from bright green smoothie shots and functional beverages to noodles and pasta. Microalgae and duckweed also make great binding agents, meaning that they can replace egg whites in products like mayonnaise and plant-based burgers. In fact, microalgae is so versatile that Paris-based start-up, Algama, claims to have over 200 prototypes in the pipeline, ready to upscale.

Deep dive into duckweed:  Parabel and LemnaPro

Parabel - a Florida-based company specialising in water lentils - wants to power a food revolution. Thanks to a patented growth system, the harvesting process can take as little as 30 minutes from farm to table and they’re able to recycle 98% of the water they use. Their flagship product, Lentein, is a powder that is higher in essential amino acids than soy or pea protein. Through a number of partnerships and their own direct-to-consumer brand - Real Source - Lentein has already been used in a range of cold pressed juices, protein beverages and healthy snacks.

Switzerland-based start-up LemnaPro is now looking to take on the European market. Founder Cyrill Hess recognised the potential of Wolffia – a specific type of duckweed – while researching his Master’s thesis. After connecting with Melanie Binggeli, who already had experience of working on alternative protein sources, the pair secured a 12-month fellowship to develop their product. They’re now preparing to launch another non-dilutive funding round and are eager to work with partners along the whole supply chain.

Challenges: Consumer habits, legal hoops and creating new value chains

Even if consumer interest in seaweed is growing, product variety remains relatively limited in mainstream European retailers. Many consumers also struggle to see how they can build it into their everyday meals. Experts therefore see the biggest potential in ready-to-eat snacks and food service creations that treat food-loving, health-conscious millennials to new taste experiences.

Duckweed innovators will also need to jump through a number of legal hoops. Lemna Pro, for example, will need to secure approval from the European Union before Wolffia can make it onto retailers’ shelves. And that’s before they take on the task of setting up an entirely new value chain. But the founders remain confident that it’ll be worth the effort when protein-hungry millennials are able to do something good for the planet by just adding a dollop of their coveted “green caviar” to boost the taste and nutrients in their superfood salads.

Business opportunities

Manufacturers

Food Service

  • Introduce an algae-based dish into your specials menu – from salads and soups to risottos and pizza toppings!
  • Consider offering microalgae shots to add a functional benefit and a flash of colour to juices, smoothies, cocktails and lattes.

Retail

  • Trial some seaweed products by stocking them in your plant-based section or alongside other Asian products to tempt consumers to give them a try.
  • Consider adding a few natural protein powders to your health and fitness range or featuring them alongside fresh produce, as consumers start to think about shaping up for the spring.