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Nutritional Analysis of Aquaponic Produce

Is aquaponic produce “better than organic”, is it better than hydroponics?  In this article we take a look at three leafy greens produced in aquaponics and how they stand up to standard nutritional results,  organic farming, traditional agriculture and hydroponic produce. Quite often we see aquaponics is “better than organic” or better than everything under the sun and not one piece of evidence can be found to support this statement.  The gurus are claiming it is better because you cant use chemicals and pesticides because they will kill the fish.  Yet, they all add hydroxides, carbonates, bicarbonates, chelates and a whole bunch of other chemicals for nutrient deficiencies, along with “natural” pesticides like Bacillus thuringiensis.  That is not to mention the anti-oxidants and fungicides in fish food.  But I digress.  Omnipresent Distractions from pseudo-apocalyptic used car salesmen are hard to overcome….. These results for Kale, Mint and Basil were lab tested using Atomic Absorption Spectrometry.  The following are results from our commercial aquaponic farm.  Some of the important measures here is the Protein, Energy and the Iron.  While we could have tested for every possible compound, these tests can be very expensive.  Luckily there is now coming to market a hand held unit… (should order up one of these) Basil Leaves: Mint Leaves: Kale Leaves: The following results are from various types of farms for the same produce.  The difficulty we had here was getting the exact same test and unit of measure.  Some communication issues there.  However, you can convert the unit of measure simply enough.  We will just focus on the Protein, energy and Iron in these results for comparison (iron divide by 10).  The Sodium and calcium results were erroneous. Basil Leaves from a Hydroponic farm: With a protein of 3, energy of 30 and Iron of 3 compared to our aquaponic produce with a protein of 2.9, energy of 31 and iron of 2.2, the aquaponic produce fails to win the upper hand in this comparison.  The difference is only small with a slightly higher energy result in the aquaponic basil more than likely due to the higher carbohydrates. Mint Leaves from a Certified Organic farm: The mint leaves from this certified organic farm shows protein of 3.1, energy 45 and Iron of 7 compared to our aquaponic grown mint with protein of 3.7, energy 38 and Iron 2.3.  Again we see some shortfall in the aquaponic produce but we do see a higher protein content. Kale Leaves from a “traditional agriculture farm” shipped halfway around the world: The Kale in these results are from refrigerated produce that has been shipped for several days and stored on supermarket shelves for 2 days before testing.  The aquaponic produce was picked and sent to test same day.  The kale in these results shows protein 2.1, energy 25 and iron 3.  The aquaponic kale came in at protein 2.2, energy 34 and iron 1.32.  In this case the aquaponic gets the upper hand on the protein and energy but fails on the iron content.  This is a good example of how nutritional density degrades over time. Online Nutritional Data Comparison While we are here, let’s take a look how aquaponic produce stacks up against standard results available online.  I expect there is some variation in these results (have not done them yet…) because different cultivars will produce different nutrient results.  But let’s find out together.  The data we will use is from Fresh Basil: The results here state a protein 3.2, energy 23 and iron 3.2 with our aquaponic basil protein of 2.9, energy of 31 and iron of 2.2.   We again see some shortfall. Fresh Mint: Mint results appear to vary from different cultivars but this result is protein 3.7, energy 70 and Iron 5.1 whereas spearmint is protein 3.3, energy 44 and Iron 11.9.  The aquaponic mint leaves protein of 3.7, energy 38 and Iron 2.3.  The comparison is too vague but what does stand out in both types of mint is the Iron content severely lacking in the aquaponic mint. Fresh Kale: The fresh kale (blue scotch) shows us protein 2.8, energy 42 and Iron 3.  Our aquaponic kale (same cultivar)  protein 2.2, energy 34 and iron 1.32, tells us we have yet another shortfall across the board. Summary: This is a small sample test of only 3 different crops so we can not say it is conclusive.  However it is evident we can not unequivocally state aquaponic produce is better than any other method of farming nor is it worse: Agriculture shows shipping distance definitely effects the results indicating close to market is better Hydroponic shows anomalies perhaps in nutrient dosing of the sample system will effect the outcome Organic shows there is a better chance of full nutrient profile being achieved from soil diversity To gain an absolute result would require much wider testing of crop varieties under different culture conditions.  However, even in this small sample we can see a pattern that the variation between different growing methods does not lend any weight to “better than organic” or better than hydroponic” or “better than agriculture”.  Something to consider when marketing your produce….

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