Thailand's well-kept secret: Wolffia Superfood
Superfood refers to nutrient-rich foods conferring health benefits. In recent years, people are more and more health-conscious and many superfoods have become widely popular, boasting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants at a level higher than your average fruits and veggies. Still, even veterans of superfoods might not know of Thailand's superfood "Wolffia" - a tiny plant harboring loads of high quality protein and key nutrients, which has only gained tractions within the last few years in the United States, Japan and Israel.
What is Wolffia
Wolffia globosa is the world's smallest flowering plant. Native to Southeast Asia, Wolffia (locally known in Thailand as Khai-nam or Phum) has been consumed in North and Northeastern part of Thailand for centuries. Wolffia contains high protein (25-40% per dry weight) comparable to soybean but with much lower starch and fat content. When consumed in equal calories, Wolffia offers twice as much protein compared to soybean.
Interestingly, Wolffia provides high-quality complete protein with all essential amino acids, good BCAA ratio, and amino acid profile comparable to that of meat and dairy, better than proteins from most other plant-based sources. Wolffia also contains vitamin A, B-complex, C, E, K, key minerals (Iron, Calcium, Zinc, Magnesium, etc.), Omega-3, fiber and antioxidants (Folate, Beta-carotene, Zeaxanthin, Lutein). Moreover, Wolffia is the only plant family (duckweed family) harboring natural plant-based vitamin B12 which has proven to be well-absorbed in humans, making Wolffia one of the best alternative plant proteins for the healthy plant-based trend.
Wolffia's health benefits: lower cholesterol, manage your weight, boost your immune and anti-age
Studies from a collaboration between researchers from Israel and Harvard University reveal multiple health benefits of consuming Wolffia globosa. In patients with obesity/lipid disorders, adding Wolffia to their weight-loss diet regimen helped them lose weight and reduced their liver fat. The patient groups with Wolffia in their diet showed 38.9% reduction of their liver fat compared to 19.6% observed in the patients groups on similar diet without Wolffia (1). Studies also demonstrated that consuming Wolffia can reduce cholesterol (2) and control blood sugar level (3). Patients consuming their daily shakes which included Wolffia reported that they feel more satiated, and their next-morning fasting glucose level as well as level of their peak glucose after meals are lower, compared to patients drinking no-Wolffia shakes with the same amount of carbohydrate, protein and calories.
Researchers postulate that high level of folate and polyphenols in Wolffia may contribute to the observed health benefits. Subsequent studies found that Wolffia contains more than 200 different polyphenols. It has been previously shown that polyphenols contain anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and immune-boosting properties. After long-term Wolffia consumption, polyphenols level is found to be higher in blood and urine of the study group (4). Additional study has also revealed further role of Wolffia consumption in creating a balance of gut microbes (5).
Wolffia - Thailand's hidden gem now ready to be showcased to the world
Even though Wolffia is native to Thailand, currently very few Thais still know of and consume Wolffia in their diet. Pollution has made Wolffia harvested from natural ponds become scarce and raised consumers' concerns about cleanliness and safety. With a growing body of clinical research, Wolffia is sought after by health and culinary enthusiasts and starts to become popular worldwide. It would be highly regrettable if Thailand's very own gem were to be lost from our culinary scene and eventually be re-adopted as a foreign superfood when reaching its peak in the global trend.
Fortunately, Thai scientists have recently initiated technology-driven Wolffia cultivation with Wolffia strain selection and controlled growing conditions in a semi-closed system, resulting in Premium Wolffia with enhanced nutrition and high safety standard eg. routinely checking for heavy metal content and bacterial contamination. Premium Wolffia is washed with ozonated water and delivered via cold chain service to ensure the quality. With these movements, many Thais have now started to consume Wolffia once again. With its mild taste and no bitterness, Wolffia can be eaten in a large amount and is suitable for children from 6 months up as well as the elderly who has trouble chewing vegetables. With all its great properties, it is the hope that further down the road, Wolffia from Thailand will be widely recognized and consumed so that everyone can enjoy the ease of use as well as the health benefits Wolffia offers.
(1) Yaskolka Meir A, Rinott E, Tsaban G, et al. Effect of green-Mediterranean diet on intrahepatic fat: the DIRECT PLUS randomised controlled trial. Gut. 2021 Jan 18:gutjnl-2020-323106.
(2) Tsaban G, Yaskolka Meir A, Rinott E,et al. The effect of green Mediterranean diet on cardiometabolic risk; a randomised controlled trial. Heart. 2020 Nov 23:heartjnl-2020-317802.
(3) Hila Zelicha, Alon Kaplan, Anat Yaskolka Meir, et al. The Effect of Wolffia globosa Mankai, a Green Aquatic Plant, on Postprandial Glycemic Response: A Randomized Crossover Controlled Trial. Diabetes Care. Jul 2019, 42 (7) 1162-1169;
(4) Yaskolka Meir A, Tuohy K, von Bergen M, et al. The Metabolomic-Gut-Clinical Axis of Mankai Plant-Derived Dietary Polyphenols. Nutrients. 2021; 13(6):1866.
(5) Rinott E, Youngster I, Yaskolka Meir A, et al. Effects of Diet-Modulated Autologous Fecal Microbiota Transplantation on Weight Regain. Gastroenterology. 2021 Jan;160(1):158-173.e10.
Translated from: An article in the column “Skin Talk – Chitchat with Dr. Mod”
Health News Magazine
Issue: October, 2021