Future of Food: Eating From the Ditch

Mathilde Nakken
October 20th 2016

Did you ever considered eating the small green leaves of duckweed floating around in the ditches in between meadows? Probably not, duckweed has a negative connotation since it is flourishing in polluted waters. Yet, scientists and farmers are studying the possibilities of edible duckweed, shoveling it out of the ditches and bringing it to our plates.

Grown in ideal circumstances, duckweed contains up to 45 percent of proteins. “It does not make use of farming land and it can grow in a basin on the farm or in a simple greenhouse on diluted manure. It grows very rapidly and contains a lot of protein. One hectare of duckweed produces just as much protein as ten hectares of soya”, says Ingrid van der Meer, head of the research project on duckweed at the University of Wageningen (The Netherlands). Therefore duckweed is a great replacement of animal fodders. For example, in the Dutch farm Ecoferm, tests are being done to grow duckweed on top of the barn. The heat of the cows stimulates the growth and the manure is used as duckweed fertilizer, creating a closed cycle within the farm.

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We might also consider eating duckweed directly. In some countries it is already common to eat this small plant. Duckweed is also called water lentils, which already sounds tastier. To promote and start the production of water lentils a Dutch company called ABC Kroos started a duckweed production line. Their goal is to produce a protein paste or powder which can be added to vegetarian food, like burgers and sauces. The main obstacle is that they cannot sell any products, since duckweed has not been legalized and recognized as a food by the Europian Union yet.

So if you are about to grab a fishing net to pick some duckweed, you might want to think twice. There is a big chance that wild grown duckweed is floating in polluted waters. We need to wait until duckweed is tested and produced professionally. Afterwards we might be able to turn open waters from green waste to golden protein sources.

Sources: Wageningen University, Trouw 
Images: ABC Kroos, Innovatie Argo en Natuur.

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