If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that there are bad algae and good algae. That doesn’t mean that you should hate all algae, though, it’s best not to generalize. This organism rivals insect as the food of the future.
The prospect of algae being the future food of humanity is feasible, and some manufacturers or companies have switched their algae biofuels business to edible algae for humans, pets, and personal care products. Some examples are the San Francisco based TerraVia (formerly Solazyme).
It’s all about algae
We’ve always known that algae is the food of aquatic life, so why is everyone interested in eating these nowadays? Well, after all the awareness about how meat industry isn’t exactly sustainable and how people are shifting into a more cleaner and healthier diet, algae slowly creeped into modern people’s lives.
SPINS, a Chicago-based industry tracker, reported that plant-based foods outpaced the growth of the whole food and beverage industry by 3.5% in 2016. Additionally, it exceeded $4.9 billion in sales in the U.S. Similarly, Mintel (a global market research firm) reported that the rapidly growing vegetarian market is a $2.8 billion-a-year industry.
The health benefits of algae vary according to different lab studies. However, looking at its nutritional profile, we’ll instantly think that it’s good for us. For example, spirulina contains about 65% protein while beef has about 20%. Additionally, algae doesn’t need that much space when compared to getting beef from cows, therefore it also doesn’t give out much negative environmental impact.
Aside from protein, algae gives an impressive amount of vitamin A, vitamin B-12 , B complex, iron, and other essential trace minerals. When processed into oil, algae gives a significant amount of omega-3 as well, which is also good for our health. Some people believe that algae is going to be a mainstream diet in just 5 to 10 years.
Algae’s bad rep in the past
While some people are optimistic about this aquatic plant, not everyone believes in the capability of algae in the future. Since it’s a relatively new product, there’s still much to do to refine it and eventually make it a mainstream product which everyone can enjoy without weird aftertaste.
In the early 50s, The Carnegie Institution of Washington collaborated on pilot plants that could grow chlorella––another form of microalgae––at optimal levels for food production. However, because the taste wasn’t that good, the idea was scrapped even though there was a need for additional sources of high-protein food around that time.
Moreover, NASA couldn’t get algae to work either. Marcus Karel, a food scientist, was contracted by the space agency to investigate how it might include algae in its food supply. The result wasn’t satisfactory, as it was too strongly flavored and nutritionally unbalanced. They tried again in 1998, and yet the researchers still struggled with how to turn algae into food that a space crew might actually eat over a long period of time.
Changes in reputation
After a few failed attempts to elevate algae as food, researchers began to use it for biofuel instead. But as we know now, things have changed and we’ve seen a lot of people including algae as a part of their diet and a new industry is emerging. According to the Financial Times, “northern European entrepreneurs are leading the way with expertise in algae.”
Netherlands-based Corbion as trailblazers in its field. The company has made algae oil which has been successful in launching their products in Walmart stores around the U.S. People love the oil because of its plant-based Omega-9 content.
So far, we’ve enjoyed algae in the form of powder or other ingredients in other products. But, researchers have been trying to find ways to develop and create algae-based molecules that behave and taste comparable to meat.
Triton Algae Innovations is a company based in San Diego that is trying to make such developments (among other companies). They’re not exactly trying to make algae steaks for now, but they aim to be an ingredient provider.
The company’s co-founder and scientist Miller Tran said that the company aims to “boost existing foods with proteins and nutrients that might not be available or as abundant in other sources.”
If you’re looking for an instant healthy drink (you know, without making smoothies or drinks yourself), then you should know that there are companies which have made on-the-go protein drinks made from algae.
In the UK, a vegan brand called Plantsy has launched the first-ever algae protein drink in the country (that’s according to the brand). There are two flavors available, which are Rhubarb & Ginger and Blood Orange & Grapefruit. And you don’t need to worry about the taste, because the brand strives to make products that are both delicious and nutritious.
Each of the brand’s product contains 15g protein per serving. Other than that, it’s gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free and is rich in dietary fibre, healthy lipids, vitamins, and minerals. Also, you can get all of the essential amino acids from the algae in this drink.
“As a person who has always been into sports and healthy lifestyle choices, I decided to integrate a plant-based diet into my life and learn more about nutrition and wellness. I started my degree in nutrition after I realised how passionate I am about plant-based alternatives,” said the founder Anya Prudkova.
“I want to empower and inspire people to be stronger and healthier using creative and nutritious vegan products designed to benefit an active lifestyle. My purpose is to make healthy simple and convenient,” she continued.
According to the brand, the flavors were chosen in accordance with current trends and each ingredient benefits. Rhubarb contains high levels of iron for digestion and blood circulation, and Vitamin C and Vitamin K, which helps stimulate bone growth. Ginger aids digestion and reduces nausea as well as helps increase brain function and prevent cancer.
Blood orange contains anthocyanins which help to fight off free radicals and reduce inflammation. It also contains folic acid that fights off cancer and heart disease, and it helps maintain healthy skin thanks to its vitamin C and vitamin A. Grapefruit is a good source of potassium, fibre, and antioxidants.
In 2017, the Guardian reported that animal agriculture uses around “70% of agricultural land [as well as being] one of the leading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.” Some research even showed that animal products can contribute to Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, and liver damage. That’s why some governments have begun to encourage people to consume more plant-based foods now.
And since algae grows in water, it won’t take other plant agriculture crops’ resources in terms of land and freshwater. To make things more sustainable, a lot of algae means that there will be more oxygen released in the atmosphere. If you don’t know it yet, algae provides around 50% of atmospheric oxygen.
Hopefully, algae will indeed be the food of the future because it’s really good for our health as well as the environment. NASA is slowly inching its way toward using cyanobacteria to support a manned base on Mars in a project dubbed CyBLiSS.
Additionally, The UN supports growing algae to feed our soaring populations and stated that spirulina should be used to fight hunger and nutrition problems and urged the world to “mainstream” the organism to supply the “daily nutritional requirements of humankind.”