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Mankai: Israeli-developed superfood aims to create a world health revolution

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IsraelNewsStand sat down for an exclusive interview with Hinoman’s CEO Ron Salpeter who believes that Mankai could be the next big thing from Israel’s agri-food sector since drip irrigation

For Hinoman CEO Ron Salpeter, highlighting Israel’s contribution to the world plays a big role in the work that he does. 

But what encouraged him to bring the Jewish state to the forefront, is the fact that he is the son of a Holocaust survivor and he wants to build bridges between Israel and the world.

Hinoman, an Israeli-based startup, cultivates Mankai Duckweed: the smallest vegetable in the world that is packed with protein, vitamins, minerals and “its taste and smell are quite neutral,” Salpeter told IsraelNewsStand

“We can create a nutritional boost without affecting the taste or smell of the food,” he said, explaining that this includes almost any type of food: smoothies, pasta, salad, soup, baked goods, crackers and tahini. 

“All you have to do is add one or two frozen cubes of Mankai, and instantly you upgraded the quality and health benefits of your everyday food,” he said.

Salpeter pointed out that dry powder Mankai is made up of 45% protein with its protein composition being close to eggs’ which are considered to provide the best and most comprehensive nutritional value from Protein.

“Unlike many other plant-based sources of Protein, Mankai contains ample amounts of all the 22 amino acids, including all the essential ones – those that the human body cannot produce on its own, and that has to be provided for appropriate food sources,” he explained. “But the superior protein is the ‘ground floor’ the value people get is that the protein is accompanied with hefty doses of Iron, vitamins A and E, anti-oxidants and even vitamin B12, with the Iron the Protein and the vitamin B12 proven to really get absorbed in our blood and so reach our cells.”

Hinoman CEO Ron Salpeter at the company’s greenhouses on Kibbutz Be’eri.
(Credit: Studio)

With the consumer markets becoming more health conscious, Salpeter believes this could be the next big thing from Israel’s agri-food sector since drip irrigation.

“People are becoming more educated, conscious, and demanding about their health. They want to make sure that the foods they eat truly do contribute to their health and to the well-being of their families,” he said. “Moving to plant-based diets is something we will all eventually have to come to terms with – it is far healthier, and definitely required from a sustainability perspective. For us this opens a window of opportunity… we see more and more consumers that want fruits and vegetables to be a significant part of their daily diets, and believe that with Mankai they’ll be able to make the transition more smoothly, as just adding small amounts enriches every food, but keeps the same old loved taste and smell.”

Asked what inspired him to get involved with Hinoman itself, Salpeter said that when he turned 50, which was eight years ago, he realized that it was time to move away from the “horizontal occupations” of his past, which included being a lawyer and an investment banker.

“I wanted to grow a business, and as they say: be careful with what you wish for,” he said, laughing. “I’d been telling my family that I want to grow something and that I don’t just want to be an ‘advice giver’ to other people and God sent me this little Mankai  and now I’m really growing something – literally!”

Salpeter explained that he was fascinated by Mankai and its outstanding composition.

“Initially when I was exposed to it in 2011, the focus was mainly on its composition but together with the original Hinoman founders, a far, far bigger vision   emerged… one which has the potential to change fundamental realities about food,” he said. “The core idea behind Mankai is that we can leverage its natural biological properties and craft our proprietary technology to create the world’s first natural (i.e. not genetically or chemically modified) ‘smart’ food ingredient. 

“One that we can contribute in very subtle and sophisticated ways to express different qualities and be adapted to many different needs and types of consumers,” he added. 

Salpeter highlighted that their technology enables Hinoman not only to optimize the composition of Mankai with no GMO, but also to optimize its beneficial effects in the body.

“This is a really big deal because we are breaking the existing boundary between food and nutraceuticals,” he continued. “We provide a plant which is just like the best food supplement that you can dream of, and still – it is a natural vegetable – not a chemical, not a drug, and so easy to use with just any food you like.”

He made it clear that the type of Mankai cultivated by Hinoman is their own bred strain and that it’s unique cultivation hardware and software enable Hinoman to produce one of the world’s most water-efficient crops, with industrial-like stability and precision – all without use of any pesticides, fungicides or growth stimulants.

Hinoman’s strain of Mankai, Salpeter emphasized, offers an absorbable high-quality wholesome ‘Natural capsule’ that is scientifically proven to contain protein, iron and Vitamin B12 “that can rarely be obtainable from sources other than meat.” 

This, Salpeter said, is a real breakthrough for anyone who wishes to consume less meat – be it for health reasons or for ethical and environmental considerations. We know of no other natural plant-source for all the nutrients you typically find in meat.

Pasta sprinkled with dry Mankai
(Credit: Studio)

Salpeter explained that Mankai could also be a future option to help deal with ailments like diabetes because it had been demonstrated in certain clinical trials that it may contribute to controlling blood sugar levels.

Other clinical trials, Salpeter told IsraelNewsStand, demonstrated that Mankai may contribute to treating certain conditions such as iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies. In a clinical trial involving 300 participants over a year-and-a-half period, researchers from Harvard university, as well as several prominent European and Israeli academic institutes demonstrated that Hinoman’s Mankai might have a positive effect on various critical indicators such as cholesterol.   

“Rigorous science is part of the company’s DNA,” Salpeter added. “We are talking facts here, not stories:  blood and urine tests, MRI scans and more.”

Hinoman’s cultivation greenhouses – “our ‘Bio-Fabs’ as they call them” -where Mankai is cultivated are situated in Kibbutz Be’eri on the Gaza border.  

“We broke the biggest ever investment of foreign money into the most crucial border of this country – the Gaza envelope,” he said. “We proudly employ dozens of families right there, on the border, trying to create life and health in an area that has known so much risk and pain. We operate what is probably the largest basins-in-greenhouses facility in the world. We employ people from the Kibbutz, the cities of the Negev and even Gaza itself, all working together to deliver the ingredient that may change the nutritional fate of food.”

The startup also has its main offices and its multidisciplinary R&D center situated in the new ground-breaking business center of Rishon Lezion.

Asked what the near future holds for Hinoman, Salpeter said that over the next 12 months, from a business point of view, Hinoman will be introducing its concept and products to three key markets:  Israel, Japan and the US.

“We already started sales last year in the United States and we’ve already launched sales in Israel,” he said, adding that from this coming week, Mankai will not only be available online in Israel but also cross-country in all key natural food stores chains.

“Our partners at Ajinomoto also plan to launch Mankai in Japan by the end of the year,” he said.

Salpeter shared that he is really proud that Hinoman’s Mankai has been served in food for some time at the cafeteria of the Kennedy School for Political Science at Harvard University, as well as in the cafeteria of the  Harvard School of Public Health, where researchers have been studying Mankai for several years and were the ones who actually insisted that the best food ingredient in the world would be first served to their own students, 

View from the top: Hinoman’s greenhouses on Kibbutz Be’eri.
(Credit: Hinoman Team)

Besides its key production site in Israel, Hinoman already operated a small-scale cultivation site in Arizona. Salpeter said they “gained invaluable experience about growing Mankai in the US. Hinoman has recently launched a new round of financing, with Oppenheimer in New York, as its investment advisor.

“One key objective for us is to finance a commercial sized facility in the US,” he said. “We have a fascinating story to tell and a great product to sell and US consumers are a natural target as we have a wonderful fit to all the key trends in this market.”

Asked about their role in agritech, Salpeter said that Hinoman aims to get to a point in the future where Mankai can become a key player in food security. 

“Mankai is the first tool that may in the future help us move not just food – but nutrients – in a smart way – from where they’re available to where they’re most needed. We call this “nutrients economy” and we think this is one key ingredient required for meeting the enormous food security challenge that humanity will need to address.”

Concluding, Salpeter said that as an Israeli company, Hinoman would feel “extremely rewarded if we can contribute to the inevitable transition of the world toward plant-based nutrition.”

He emphasized that if, in 20 years from now, there will be less malnutrition and less food-related sickness in the world “because Mankai could make a real contribution to the well-being and the to the immune systems of people across geographies and kitchens, we at Hinoman will be the happiest of people.

“Of course, we will feel extremely happy if we can contribute to the positive face of Israel, standing in the footsteps of giant startups like Waze and Checkpoint who made real contributions to the quality of life for people all over the world,” Salpeter added.

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