Algae—‘Pond Scum’ No Longer

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

When it comes to functional foods, algae fits the bill combining health, versatility, and sustainability. As the mother of all plants, foods made with algae deliver a unique set of sensory and nutritional benefits. Marks Brooks, SVP, Solazyme Food Ingredients, shares how food ingredients derived from algae can touch every type of food and fulfil a need for simple sources of nutrition.

When many people think of algae, the green ‘pond scum’ that floats in the ocean may come to mind. However, there are thousands of different types of algae, many of which are neither green nor grow in ponds or the ocean. In fact, the phylogeny of land plants can be traced back to algae.

Algae is the foundation of our food chain and in its purest form, is an ultimate source of nutrition. It contains the essential building blocks of food—protein, fibres, healthy oils, macro and micronutrients, making for uniquely powerful food ingredients. It is also considered to be one of nature’s first foods, so when it comes to whole ingredients, look no further than algae. In fact, microalgae was the world’s original oil producer.

Over the years, food manufacturers have researched this nutrient-rich resource, seeking new ingredients to better nutrition. Recognising that there are a variety of nutritional benefits inherent in algae, many algae products have recently come to market. For instance, Spirulina under the juice section, Chlorella under the nutrition supplement section, or wakame seaweed that is being used as a crunchy and healthier alternative to croutons. Algae is steadily rising in popularity as a food ingredient, enhancing food without having an impact on taste or texture.

Utilising earth’s first superfood, manufacturers seek to help transform everyday nutrition and nourish a growing population with the earth’s resources in mind. Algae-based food ingredients can help do this in many common food products in terms of nutrition, taste, texture, flavour and sustainability.

In order to keep up with growing demand for algae based food products, there are three algae-based food ingredients that have proven optimally functional for a number of food products sold across the aisles at the local grocery store: algae lipid powder, whole algae protein, and algae oils.

Algae Lipid Powder

Algae-based lipid powder can help to provide food companies with an ingredient to boost healthier nutrition profiles, while still making delicious, indulgent-tasting food products. Rich in lipids, this powder can therefore replace fats, oil, and egg yolks, while enhancing the nutrition profiles of products in applications such as breads, cakes, crackers, and cookies.

Because algae-based lipid powder is one whole cell made up of fats, micronutrients and protein and fibre, manufacturers can use it to replace the egg yolks in products and whole egg in some cases, rather than adding several ingredients to the formulation and label. Using this powder as an ingredient can also thereby help food companies reduce fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories in its products, yet without losing the delicious taste and texture that consumers know and love.

Whole Algae Protein

Whole algae protein is a unique combination of a protein that contains all the essential amino acids, is highly digestible (88 percent) and does not interact with other ingredients in a formulation.

When using this in formulations, the protein and other nutrients are completely protected within the microalgae cell wall. This protection means that it has limited interaction with other ingredients, and so can be used to increase protein in a broad range of food products, including cereals, sauces, snacks, bars, beverages, dressings and bakery products, without compromising on taste or texture.

Since it is vegan, a non-genetically modified organism, allergen and gluten-free, food products fortified with algae derived protein are therefore accessible to a wide range of consumers with varying dietary restrictions, like lactose intolerance or celiac disease.

Algae Oils

When it comes to oils made from algae, many people are surprised to learn that algae is the world’s original oil producer. Algae oils offer a neutral flavour, which allows for unlimited formulation ability to help food companies create nutritionally and functionally optimal food products.

Algae oils can exist as a high-stability oil with a low polyunsaturated fat content, and low levels of saturated fat, and zero trans-fat. With low polyunsaturated fat levels, the oil offers exceptional oxidative stability, with a longer fry-life. This oil can help replace partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) in products like mayonnaise and potato chips, following the trans-fat ban from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It can also offer a clean label solution, removing preservatives such as ethylene diamine tetra acetic acid (EDTA), in mayonnaises and dressings.

Algae oils can also exist as one that has a high level of monounsaturated fat, and a low level of saturated fat.

Today, not only the West, but an increasing number of people globally, including the emerging markets, are consuming high levels of saturated fat that extend far beyond suggested dietary limits. Fortunately, algae oil provides food companies with a solution that could reduce saturated fat in packaged foods while increasing levels of monounsaturated fat, a ’good fat‘. These small changes in ingredients could really be ground-breakingly useful for making consumers lives healthier, especially when it comes to reducing risk of cardiovascular disease and other heart related complications.

Sustainability In Check

From a sustainability perspective, algae is not only better for people, but also better for the planet. Culturing algae for food consumption as well as processing it as an oil has minimal impact on land compared to other food ingredients or cooking oils, with a significantly lower carbon and water footprint.

Algae has been gaining significant traction as a food ingredient. The world is seeing ever-increasing interest in algae-based ingredients as the consumer demand for healthful yet satisfying food continues to grow. Algae-based food ingredients can help improve the nutritional profile of many common foods, while enhancing taste and texture.

It is no wonder the concept of algae as food is gaining traction, with health experts, culinary taste makers, and trend-setters alike embracing the notion of algae as a delicious, functional food ingredient. Additionally, companies are using algae-based ingredients to create better-for-you packaged products like baked goods, beverages, dressing, dairy products, and more. Today, algae-based ingredients can be found in more than ten aisles of the grocery store in a range of products.