The ingredient (brand name mankai) is harvested from the leaves (which are smaller than 0.5mm long) of a tiny aquatic plant from the duckweed family that grows on the surface of water and can be added to everything from pasta to bread, noodles, protein shakes and powders, bars and crackers.
Dubbed the “world’s smallest vegetable”, mankai has an amino acid profile "similar to egg" claims Hinoman, which has developed a hi-tech - and highly-scalable - process designed to grow the plant without pesticides in a closed system.
While Hinoman can manipulate the production process such that the plant can produce up to 60% protein, the current set up consistently produces a whole food ingredient with a protein content of 45% by dry weight, VP of marketing and business development Udi Alroy told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We’re positioning it as a whole food ingredient. 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 all year-round. The first product is a dry milled powder but you could also sell it fresh so you can use it in smoothies and shakes.
“We’ve had interest from companies of every size in several markets, including multinationals. There aren’t that many genuinely new ingredients in this industry, so this is generating a lot of interest, and some manufacturers want to call it out on the front of pack.”
We’re positioning it as a whole food ingredient
The plant is grown indoors in pools in glasshouses (it needs sunlight) and fed a proprietary mix of food-grade ingredients, while computerized methods enable it to be monitored remotely and harvested via a continuous (rather than a batch) process all-year-round, providing pricing stability and keeping labor costs down, said Alroy.
It also has obvious advantages over other plant protein sources in that it grows incredibly rapidly and unusually for a plant, contains all the essential amino acids with a high proportion of the branched chain amino acids, he said.
It is also rich in vitamins A and E, the B vitamins (notably B12, which is unusual for a plant), iron and selenium, said Alroy, who said the initial plan is to build its own facilities but that in future it would also look to license its technology to partners that would produce mankai to Hinoman’s specifications.
Generally Recognized as Safe
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, and can be added to foods in “higher quantities, than say, spirulina,” without negatively impacting taste or texture, said Alroy.
The bright green plant - which has been “consumed in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam for generations” - said Alroy, is produced without pesticides in a safe, carefully monitored close-loop system.
Hinoman has gone through the self-affirmed GRAS (generally recognized as safe) process in the US for mankai, and is looking at making the relevant regulatory filings in other markets, said Alroy [mankai would need to go through the novel food process in the EU, for example].