Cultivation of duckweed for protein

Lemna (duckweed) is the smallest flowering plant on earth. It multiplies quickly and is rich in protein at dry weight. All of which of course is exactly what the world needs. “Lemna has so much promise as a solution within the foreseeable future,” says scientist Ingrid van der Meer.

Eating meat is increasingly common worldwide. The production of a single kilogram of meat demands approximately three kilos of plant feed. If people continue to consume at this pace it will lead to a shortage in sufficient (plant) protein. We must therefore base our diet more on plant protein sources than animal ones. “As a new protein crop, duckweed has good possibilities,” says Van der Meer. “It does not require agricultural land, can be cultivated in basins or greenhouses or even via vertical farming, grows extremely fast, and contains loads of protein. One hectare of duckweed produces as much protein as ten hectares of soy.”

Wageningen accommodates all the disciplines necessary to boost research into the use of duckweed as a new (European) protein crop. Important focal points are the suitability of duckweed as human food, the best cultivation conditions, the profile of the protein of the various varieties, and how it should be processed. In addition, lemna it still considered a so-called ‘Novel Food’, which means it is currently not allowed for human consumption by the European food authorities (EFSA). Van der Meer is also involved with the research required for approval.

“It’s all looking very good, especially the yield,” Van der Meer continues. “But there are still many steps to take. Cultivation on industrial water could work – we now know that it contributes to water purification – but it would then obviously be unsuitable for human consumption. We hope to get started and conduct a pilot project soon. I am optimistic. A burger filled with duckweed protein on my plate would be a tasty achievement!”

Dr. Ingrid van der Meer, Senior Researcher Bioscience
Dr. Ingrid van der Meer, Senior Researcher Bioscience