This investment by the High-Value Nutrition (HVN) National Science Challenge and industry partners will  seek to establish two new highly functional natural foods – Karengo (a type of edible seaweed) and Mamaku (tree fern). The HVN Challenge is a mission-led programme of innovative research into the health and wellbeing attributes of New Zealand produced foods for our major export markets. The Challenge will over the next five years fund a number of projects through a competitive contestable funding process, and has recently approved two innovative 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 in total $596,000 in funding from HVN, and co-funding and in-kind support from its two industry partners. This research by Dr Thomas Wheeler and his team at the Cawthron Institute 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), joint industry partners in this programme, to confidently develop sustainable production aquaculture systems and markets for valuable karengo-based products.

Seaweed is a trending superfood. Nori (Pyropia spp., formerly Porphyra spp.) commands the highest value of any edible seaweed type, and contains a range of health benefits, including suppressing inflammation.  At least three Pyropia species grow along New Zealand’s South Island coasts.  Collectively known as karengo, they are distinct from nori, and have a history of use as a traditional food for Māori, and was used as a medicine. However, to date its health-promoting attributes have not been scientifically tested.

“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,” says Joanne Todd, Director, High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge.

The programme promotes the goals of Vision Mātauranga through utilising traditional cultural knowledge to create innovative functional foods and through its commitment to sustainable low impact aquaculture as means of production. Further, the programme illustrates the HVN themes of collaboration and additionality through the three-way researcher/end-user partnership, incorporating leading-edge science which has a clear vision to a premium market.

This project is the first analysis of the New Zealand Pyropia species of its kind and findings will inform future pilot scale and full human clinical studies, the development of karengo aquaculture systems, and development of karengo-containing premium functional foods.

The second funded proposal titled ‘Mamaku Whakaoraora’ will provide an evidence-based foundation for establishing Mamaku (Cyathia medullaris, tree fern) as a highly functional natural food, with an indigenous whakapapa, and a strong capacity to improve a range of metabolic and gut health conditions.

The research team is co-led by Dr John Monro from Plant & Food Research and Garry Watson, Chairman of Nga Uri o te Ngahere Trust (NUOTN), 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.

NUOTN Trust specialises in ethnoscience and traditional health remedies in the Rongoa Rakau / Rongoa Māori space and they have a long track record in Mātauranga Māori-based research kaupapa. The funding investment combined from High-Value Nutrition and co-funding and in kind contribution from industry partners is $895,000.

“This research will provide a basis for larger clinical studies to establish the value of Mamaku to Māori Health, Māori business, to New Zealand as a whole, and to export (Asian) markets suffering the global burden of metabolic syndrome,” says Richard Mithen, Chief Scientist, High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge. This unique research collaboration addresses the need to unlock the under-developed potential of Mātauranga Māori.  The proposal will provide scientific knowledge to supplement Māori knowledge that Mamaku has numerous health attributes making it a potentially valuable crop.

The growing Asian middle-class and intrinsic susceptibility of Asians to diabetes, is creating a vast market for natural, effective remedies such as those derived from Mamaku, with a respected and ancient whakapapa. This is a great opportunity for Māori business. As a prolific element in the indigenous flora, Mamaku is an ideal alternative land use diversification candidate for pine conversion and use in marginal land blocks.

To date, High-Value Nutrition has invested more than $43 million in research aligned to four key nutritional health platforms: Digestive Health, Immune Health, Infant Health and Metabolic Health. There is $13.7m allocated to funding, which can be applied for in the contestable process, which is an open call for applications under three funds: the Core, Māori Food & Beverage (F&B) Innovation Fund and the Emerging F&B Fund.

To date the Challenge has  brought together more than 100 researchers drawn from the country’s top nutrition and health research institutions, with co-investment from the private sector in service to the broader vision for the development of high-value foods for health and wellbeing to lift export returns and drive economic growth.

Please refer to the Research Overview documents for more information about the High-Value Nutrition Karengo and Mamaku contestable funding projects. High-Value Nutrition is one of the eleven National Science Challenges. The Challenge has an $45.6 million budgeted research investment over the next five years.