PhotoPlant-based proteins are the answer to a variety of consumer concerns, from health or moral to environmental. Whatever the reason you’re looking to cut back on meat, alternative proteins will welcome you with open arms.

Industry insiders say plant-based proteins are one of the biggest trends of 2016. With popularity only rising, it's estimated that alternative proteins could make up one-third of the market by 2054. But while tofu, tempeh, and seitan might be the first alternative proteins that jump to mind, there are others to be found by diving deeper.

In the March issue of Food Technology, Toni Tarver describes three lesser known alternative protein sources. They’re as palatable as they are nutrient-dense ... and they were all born under water.

Seaweeds

If you're looking for the highest protein content, be sure to look for red seaweed (such as dulse or nori), rather than green or brown seaweeds. Nori is particularly high in protein; 100 grams contains 50 grams of protein. It's also full of amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids and is a good source of vitamin B12. All in all, an overachiever in the nutrient department.

Nori can be purchased in sheets, which can then be used to wrap rice or fish (or both, in the case of sushi). Many also choose to sprinkle smaller pieces of the red seaweed onto soups and noodle dishes.

Algae-derived proteins

Algae, as we've reported, is chock full of nutrients. There are two types of algae: macro and micro. You may have seen macroalgae floating in an ocean, lake, or pond. Microalgae, on the other hand, grows in freshwater and cannot be seen without a microscope. Both varieties of algae contain a great deal of nutrients, including vitamins A, C, E, folate, calcium, iodine, iron, omega-3s, and carbohydrates (to name a few).

As far as protein content, macroalgae contains between 3 to 50 percent, while its freshwater counterpart, microalgae, can contain up to 70 percent.

Duckweed

Duckweed grows in still or slow-moving water. With a protein content of up to 45 percent, this exceptionally tiny flowering plant has among the highest protein levels in the plant kingdom. Birds and fish love to eat duckweed, but it’s also a centuries-old favorite of people in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and parts of Africa.

Two types of Duckweed are recommended for human consumption: Lentein Plus and Mankai. Available fresh or as a dry food powder, duckweed can be blended into a shake, smoothie, or added to pasta or baked goods. 


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