Salicornia belongs to a family of salt-accumulating plants called halophytes, which means that it is by nature high in salt content. It grows on saline land near seasides ‘anywhere in the world’, but has not been used as a food resource before this as it was generally found to be ‘too salty to eat’ previously.
“Salicornia is the only edible halophyte anywhere - this must not be confused with seaweed, which grows inside the sea itself and does not accumulate salt,” Phyto Corporation Founder and CEO Duke Kim told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“It has long been known that Salicornia is very beneficial as a sustainable food resource, but it was not a practical food previously as it was too salty to eat.
“My idea when establishing Phyto Corporation was that via our (now-patented) desalination technologies, we would be able to develop a 100% plant-based salt by separating it from Slicornia, as well as make a new superfood with the desalted remaining part to solve global food shortage.”
Phyto Corporation holds ‘more than 30 patents’ for Salicornia-based products currently, including world-first 100% plant-based salt PhytoSalt.
“PhytoSalt is also the world’s only ‘naturally low-sodium salt’ that can reduce sodium intake - animal studies, including one published in the International Journal of Molecular Science have shown that PhytoSalt is effective on high blood pressure,” said Kim
PhytoSalt also claims to be 100% microplastics-free, as the Salicornia plant cell membrane ‘filters out the microplastics in seawater’, and also to be the only plant-based organic salt in the market as opposed to current salts which are ‘inorganic salts made up of either seawater or rock salt’.
“By nature, Salicornia contains many defense compounds to prevent ‘salt stress’ such as saponin, polyphenol, flavonoids, choline, betaine, etc. which all have some form of benefit or other to health,” Kim added.
“It also contains a large amount of mineral and dietary fiber, seven times more potassium than potatoes, 10 times more iron than spinach, as much calcium as six servings of milk as well as essential amino acids in sufficient amounts for daily dietary requirements.”
Phyto Corporation received the StartupSG Award from the Singapore government at this year’s Future Food Asia 2019 event for its technologies and high global growth potential.
More Salicornia products
In addition to PhytoSalt, the company has also developed a variety of other products based on Salicornia.
One of these is flour alternative PhytoMeal, which contains 40% fewer calories and 60 times more calcium than regular flour.
“This is generally used by mixing with regular flour [to bring down calories], and this would also remove the need to use additional salt for whatever product PhytoMeal is used for. The saltiness levels can also be controlled using our technology,” said Kim.
PhytoMeal can be used for a wide variety of foods such as breads, cakes, cereals, cookies, chips, pasta, hamburger buns and so on.
Another interesting Salicornia creation is the firm’s MemoryTea. This is an RTD tea beverage containing an extract from the plant called acanthoside B, which Kim claims to have memory-enhancing properties.
“MemoryTea is also zero calories and caffeine-free. Our main target market for this drink is not only elderly consumers, but also students,” he added.
MemoryTea is Phyto Corporation’s first retailed product, currently available in 60 E-Mart outlets in South Korea. E-Mart is the country’s largest supermarket chain.
“We plan to launch PhytoSalt in South Korea come December 2019, and both MemoryTea and PhytoSalt in other global markets such as Singapore, China, the United States, Europe, and so on in the near future,” said Kim.
Other Phyto Corporation products include sauces, other teas and various supplements.
In addition to its benefits, Kim added that Salicornia cultivation is also a major way forward in sustainable agriculture.
“Salicornia can be mass-cultivated by seawater agriculture, which is a new method of agriculture that is highly practical during times of food shortage that result from water shortage,” he said.
“It also does not require the use of additional fresh water, fertilisers or pesticides.
“As such, seawater agriculture and salicornia could be the way forward to solving the global food crisis.”