Seaweed and tree fern: $1.1M Māori-led research announced to create new NZ functional foods

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

HVN has invested $43million in research aligned to four key nutritional health platforms.
HVN has invested $43million in research aligned to four key nutritional health platforms.

Related tags New zealand Seaweed Functional foods

New Zealand’s High-Value Nutrition (HVN) National Science Challenge and industry partners are seeking to establish two new ‘highly functional natural foods’ – Karengo, a type of edible seaweed, and Mamaku, a type of tree fern.

The High Value Nutrition National Science Challenge, which seeks to tap into the potential of local foods to boost exports, is hosted by the University of Auckland and funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

It has recently approved two projects that will be completed together with Māori businesses partners.

The first funded project is titled ‘He tipu moana he oranga tangata (growth from the sea, health to the people): Revealing karengo as a high-value functional food’, which will receive $596,000 from HVN, and co-funding and in-kind support from two industry partners.

This research will be led by Dr Thomas Wheeler and his team at the Cawthron Institute and will analyse the New Zealand karengo species across their known geographical ranges to determine how its composition influences health benefits.

This will enable Māori industry pioneers Wakatū Incorporation and Te Runanga o Ngāi Tahu (TRoNT), the joint industry partners in this programme, to develop sustainable production aquaculture systems and markets for valuable karengo-based products.

Karengo is similar to nori, containing notably high levels of protein compared with other seaweeds, micronutrients, and a very high proportion of the anti-inflammatory lipid eicosopentanoic acid (EPA).

However, no investigations of the detailed composition or bio-activities of karengo have been conducted before.

Stimulating revenue 

“This programme will contribute to HVN’s goal of stimulating NZ’s Food & Beverage export revenue through high-value products with strong provenance and health-promoting attributes. Preliminary scoping suggests a significant industry is possible,”​ said  Joanne Todd, Director, High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge.

The second project, titled  ‘Mamaku Whakaoraora’ will provide an evidence-based foundation for establishing Mamaku (Cyathia medullaris​, tree fern) as a functional food that can improve a range of metabolic and gut health conditions.

Dr John Monro from Plant & Food Research and Garry Watson, Chairman of Nga Uri o te Ngahere Trust (NUOTN), will lead the research in collaboration with Te Rangitahi o te Whenua Trust (ROTW) and Dr Lara Matia-Merino and Associate Professor Kelvin Goh from Massey University.

The project will determine processes for food safe preparation of Mamaku products and assess the properties of Mamaku under simulated in vitro ​gut conditions. Clinical trials with Mamaku products will be conducted to establish their safety and blood cholesterol-lowering potential as well as the effects on the colonic microbiota.

The funding investment combined from High-Value Nutrition and co-funding and in kind contribution from industry partners totals $895,000.

To date, High-Value Nutrition has invested more than $43million in research aligned to four key nutritional health platforms: Digestive Health, Immune Health, Infant Health and Metabolic Health.

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