Water lentils, known botanically as lemnoidiae and colloquially as duckweed or bayroot, are a serious new contender in the world of plant-based protein. You may have seen these tiny, free-floating aquatic plants growing naturally on a pond, marsh, or slow-moving stream.
Until very recently, their nutritious potential has gone largely unrecognized outside of a few small pockets in Thailand, southeast Asia, and parts of Africa. But that may be about to change.
A Potent Source of Plant-Based Protein
In their raw state, water lentils are composed of 45% protein – that’s nearly 10% more than soybeans! Not only that, but according to a study published by Food Chemistry in September of 2016, the amino acid composition of water lentils makes them a “high quality protein source for human nutrition.” Certainly, the myth that plant-based diets can’t deliver all the essential amino acids (EAAs) you need has been thoroughly disproved. However, adequate EAA intake is crucial to good health. Water lentils also contain high concentrations of fiber…omega-3 fatty acids…and carotenoids such as lutein.
A company called Parabel has developed a protein powder made from water lentils that they believe has the potential to be “the world’s most nutritionally complete and sustainable food source.” That’s a lofty claim, but water lentils might just live up to it. They grow and reproduce faster than any other leafed plant—they can literally double their numbers in under two days. The entire plant can be harvested and consumed as food, and Parabel reports that 98% of the water used to grow the lentils in open-air ponds can be recycled back into the system. Parabel hopes to have their protein powder available for purchase in 2017.
Will Water Lentils Solve World Hunger?
Water lentils could also be a valuable resource in addressing the impending worldwide food shortage. Experts estimate that in the next 30 years, 70% more food will be required to support the human population of this planet.
In addition to their impressive nutritional profile, water lentils are a remarkable sustainably food crop. They require little space and relatively little water to grow, especially considering that the plants themselves prevent evaporation and the vast majority of the water necessary for their growth can be used again and again. Water lentils can also thrive in a variety of climates.
“Any alternative sources of protein that are sustainable are important to global food security,” Duncan Cameron, professor of Plant and Soil biology at the University of Sheffield, told a reporter from the Daily Mail.
How to Try Water Lentils for Yourself
If you’d like to try water lentils for yourself, you can easily grow them at home. They require only a few inches of water to thrive, and will multiply to fit any surface areas of any size. Aim to keep the water temperature above 70 degrees. There are many resources online that you can consult for further advice on growing your own water lentils. Fresh water lentils have a tangy flavor similar to watercress or spinach. They work well in salads, on sandwiches, or in any instance you’d typically reach for a leafy vegetable.