The ingredient is harvested from the leaves (which are smaller than 0.5mm long) of a tiny aquatic plant that grows on the surface of water called mankai.
Dubbed the “world’s smallest vegetable”, mankai has an amino acid profile "similar to egg" claims Israeli firm Hinoman, which has developed a hi-tech - and highly-scalable - process designed to grow the plant without pesticides in a closed system such that it consistently produces a whole food ingredient with a protein content of 45% by dry weight.
‘We’re not selling a protein isolate or concentrate, we’re selling a whole food
Production of mankai – which is from the duckweed family - can be done indoors or outdoors in a covered hydroponics system, while computerized methods enable it to be monitored remotely and harvested via a continuous (rather than a batch) process all-year-round, regardless of the weather, providing pricing stability and keeping labor costs down, Hinoman’s VP of marketing and business development Udi Alroy told FoodNavigator-USA.
Mankai has obvious advantages over other plant protein sources in that it grows incredibly rapidly in all weather conditions, indoors or outdoors, and can be harvested all year around, providing pricing stability, he added.
“We can double mass in 7-10 days.”
He would not give details of the inputs involved in the production process (ie. what the plant is fed to grow), but said it was a “proprietary mix of food-grade ingredients”.
So how does it compare to some other plant-based proteins?
Hinoman has filed patents covering the mankai strain (a sub species of the duckweed family); cultivation patents - to protect its cultivation algorithm; and application patents for using mankai in a variety of foods.
“We’re actually positioning it as a whole food ingredient,” said Alroy. “It’s not a protein isolate or concentrate, it’s a whole food. We use 100% of the leaf and there is no waste. We use very little water, no arable land, and we can produce it anywhere, indoors or outdoors, year-round."
He added: "We have the technology [to produce] protein concentrates and isolates; it is planned in the future, but not the immediate one.
"We are currently focusing on the whole food and whole supplement foods."
Nutrition: High in BCAAs with a PDCAAS (digestibility) score of 0.89
Unusually for a plant, mankai contains all the essential amino acids with a high proportion of the branched chain amino acids (BCAA) and boasts a PDCAAS (digestibility) score of 0.89.
But it is also rich in vitamins A and E, the B vitamins, plus minerals and fatty acids, and has been consumed in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam for generations, said Alroy.
A more neutral flavor than spirulina
But what’s it like to work with?
Available as a cold-water dispersible fine powder suitable for use in everything from bakery products and sports nutrition products (protein shakes, nutrition bars) to pasta, mankai has a more neutral flavor than spirulina, spinach or kale, said Alroy.
“The sports nutrition guys are saying, Give us something that doesn’t have that ‘algae’ flavor. I think the early adopters will be in the protein powders/sports nutrition space as there is a lot of growth in vegetable proteins in that market.
"But we also see real potential in the food industry, because people like the fact it's a nutritious, non-allergenic, non-GMO whole food with no additives, but they also love the thought of continuity of supply and a consistent, affordable price.”
From a regulatory perspective, the ingredient is currently going through the self-determined GRAS (generally recognized as safe) process, said Alroy.
The business model
So what is Hinoman’s business model? To produce ingredients itself or allow others to grow and produce them under license using its proprietary processes?
A combination of both, said Alroy. “We plan to have our own farms, but there will also be licensing opportunities,”
Hinoman is exhibiting at the IFT show in Chicago at booth #471