Grow your protein!

World Food Day just passed by, it’s time we paid attention to our daily diet. While we all aim for a ‘nutritious’ diet, reality does not always reflect our aspirations. One key nutrient, Protein, the building blocks of our body, sometimes get sidelined in our daily diet.

Proteins, from digesting our food to strengthening our immunity, maintain the balance that allows us to live a healthy life. Common sources of proteins can be either animal based-eggs, meat and milk or plant-based - soya beans, sprouts (Alfalfa sprouts) and drumstick. While a diet of only animal-based protein is not advisable, the alternative of switching to only plant-based sources (from our current selection) will not be sufficient for us. With more people becoming health-conscious, we need to find the middle ground to this problem and maybe the answer lies in ‘Superfoods’.

Superfoods are ‘the food for future’, they are nutrient-rich and can help supplement our normal diets in this fast-paced lifestyle. Single-cell protein is one of these superfoods.

A well marketed and branded single-cell protein-Spirulina, an alga, already has been extensively used in the pharmaceutical industry and the health & wellness industry, to meet the protein requirement of the body. Unfortunately, growing it involves too much of a hassle that it’s better left for the experts.

Luckily for us, we have Azolla, an under-marketed Single-cell protein source that luckily for us can be grown in our backyards.

Azolla pinnata as scientifically referred and commonly known as Duckweed or Azolla. It is found in freshwater ponds. While it can be misjudged to be algae for its tiny leaves and matte growth throughout the area, it is a water fern.

Azolla contains 25%-30% protein and is one of the fastest-growing plants (grows in about 7-10 days) on the planet mainly because of its symbiotic relationship with a cyanobacterium (‘blue-green algae’) called Anabaena. This relationship makes it the power-packed, nutrient-rich food that it is.

Growing Azolla doesn’t require technical expertise and is relatively hassle-free, so here is how you can grow your protein at home -

  1. In tub or trough add soil about 5 cm in height.
  2. Make a mixture of dried cow dung & single super phosphate (https://www.indiamart.com/proddetail/single-super-phosphate-fertilizer-14138202262.html- here is a glimpse of the product)
  3. Pour the above mixture into the soil and fill water until there is an inch gap left between the water level and brim of the tub or trough.
  4. Allow the soil bed to settle down completely.
  5. Add Azolla seeds (https://dir.indiamart.com/impcat/azolla-seeds.html)
  6. Now, wait for 10days for your first harvest.
  7. After harvesting, wash your Azolla produce about 5-6 times before consuming it.

Who would have thought growing your own protein source would be this easy? Azolla is green-gold and is worth every penny invested. Its benefits are far-reaching and more than can be enumerated in this article (Read up more at the Azolla Foundation: http://theazollafoundation.org/).

Now that you have learnt how to grow your own Azolla, we have to learn how to cook it. Azolla can be added to salads, soup, bread, popcorn & can even be used to make ‘Azolla-balls’ or vadai (here goes the recipe: https://youtu.be/K9ak_xfjz9w). If you’re curious about food and would like to experiment around Azolla, ‘Azolla cooking & cultivation project book’ by Erik Sjödin. (https://issuu.com/ostertorp/docs/the_azolla_cooking_and_cultivation_) is a good start.

Go ahead and experiment with your taste buds, the world is full of possibilities, why should your taste buds miss out on all the fun?

Monalisa Mukherjee

Programme Assistant