Algae’s future in food

June 9, 2020

How are algae ingredients making food functional?

Algae has arrived. For many years, this emerald jewel of nutrition has been lauded for its robust nutrient profile and its planetary promise of sustainability. It has been the focus of multibillion-dollar companies seeking to harness its power as an alternative fuel source. And now food companies are taking notice.

But can it walk the talk? New developments in the food and beverage sector are showing significant signs of progress that will help algae expand beyond niche applications like milk and yogurt, and officially bring it mainstream.

To encapsulate how people view algae and its future, a 2018 Forbes article said that if there was “one silver bullet for the future of food, it would be green and filled with algae.”1 Charles Greene, a climatologist quoted in that article, said he believes microalgae could be the answer to many of the world’s current challenges by providing a valuable source of carbon-neutral fuels, aquafeeds for the agriculture and aquaculture industries, and high-protein food products for direct human consumption.

The latter is only recently being explored by major food companies, such as Switzerland-based Nestlé, which inked a deal with ingredients supplier Corbion (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) at the end of 2019. Corbion is a market leader in lactic acid, lactic acid derivatives, emulsifiers, functional enzyme blends, minerals, vitamins, and-you guessed it-algae ingredients. According to its latest agreement with Nestlé, the two companies will develop “a next-generation platform of algae-based ingredients rich in protein and micronutrients that can deliver sustainable, great-tasting, highly nutritious products.”

More specifically, the partnership will combine Corbion’s microalgae and fermentation capabilities with Nestlé’s expertise in the development of plant-based products. The research will work to further develop the functionality, taste, and nutritional profile for use in different types of products.

For now, Corbion has been busy supplying its algae-based feed ingredients to the global agriculture and aquaculture market. AlgaPrime DHA is Corbion’s long-chain, omega-3-rich algae ingredient for the aquaculture, pet, and livestock industries.

Checking the sustainability box is extremely important for the company as well as its customers. The company proudly stands by its AlgaPrime DHA production facility, which it says embodies the principles of large-scale sustainable production with low carbon, water, and land use impact.

“Our facility sits among sugar cane fields and is located next door to a sugar cane mill. Compared to other sugars' sources like corn and wheat, the sugar cane used to grow AlgaPrime DHA is one of the world’s most productive sugar sources,” the company says on its website. “Even the sugar cane waste is used as a renewable source of energy to power the sugar mill and our algae facility.”

Further, it claims that AlgaPrime can help reduce the depletion of small marine fish. “On a DHA basis, one metric ton of AlgaPrime DHA is the equivalent of saving up to 40 metric tons of wild-caught fish from our oceans,” the company says on its website.

In June last year, Corbion in collaboration with Norway-based BioMar formed a new feed partnership with the Norwegian-based Salmon Group, the world's largest network of local, family-owned fish farming and aquaculture companies.

“Salmon Group has been working systematically for several years to ensure more sustainable farming practices, and feed is a key element here,” said Anne-Kristine Øen, CEO of Salmon Group in a press announcement. “Through BioMar’s innovation efforts, they have identified and sourced alternative ingredients, like AlgaPrime DHA, that help put our sustainability goals into practice, and meet retail and consumer demand for more responsibly raised seafood.”

“The leadership shown by Salmon Group is impressive, and we are thrilled to play a part in improving sustainable aquaculture across the globe,” said Marc den Hartog, executive vice president of innovation platforms at Corbion. “AlgaPrime DHA continues to be adopted and trusted by salmon farmers as they look to improve the omega-3 content and sustainability profile of their salmon."

 

Seaweed’s Day in the Sun

Seaweed has a very important seat at the table when it comes to its contribution to food and sustainability. “Seaweed extracts tick many of the boxes for products of natural and sustainable origin, aligned with ethnic demand (halal, kosher, etc..), allowing fat reduction, potentially considered (region dependent) as dietary fibers or health ingredients, and often used to replace other additives of animal origin,” says Fabrice Bohin, CEO, Algaia (Paris, France).

He says one of the fastest growth areas is vegan applications. As a matter of fact, Algaia just launched a specific range of solutions called VegAlg for these types of products.

Bohin goes down the list of various types of seaweeds that have been around for hundreds of years but are experiencing a modern resurgence in interest. “Red seaweed (and derived agar or carrageenans) have been used in food since the 15th century, while alginates (brown seaweed extract) have been around since 1881,” he says. “And although the industrial production of algae extracts for food applications started more than 80 years ago, we are only halfway there in terms of realizing their full potential.”

“Algae have been used for centuries in food in Asia, but its benefits are only just starting to be understood and appreciated in regions like Europe or the U.S.,” he adds.

 

Health Benefits

In addition to algae ingredients' nutritive benefits, ingredient companies are also harnessing the additional functional, health-promoting characteristics these ingredients can add to food.

In recent years, another seaweed derivative, fucoidan, has been active on the food front. Fucoidan extracts have attained regulatory approvals in several global jurisdictions for use in food and dietary supplements. Of particular note, extracts from Undaria pinnatifida and Fucus vesiculosus have been granted Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status with the U.S. FDA following an application by Australia-based Marinova (Tasmania, Australia).

Speaking about the GRAS determinations, Marinova’s chief scientist, Dr. Helen Fitton, explained in a press release, “The daily consumption of high concentration fucoidan extracts from both Undaria pinnatifida and Fucus vesiculosus have been accepted at rates of up to 250 mg/day. This provides the market with sound confidence that fucoidan can be safely consumed in a wide variety of products. However, it is important to note that only Maritech fucoidan has been granted FDA-notified GRAS approval at this daily rate.”

The same fucoidan extracts have also been assessed by the European Union and found to be substantially equivalent to the parental seaweeds from which they were extracted. Following Novel Food approval under the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU), the market is experiencing a surge in interest in fucoidan for inclusion in a range of products.

In both Canada and Australia, respective agencies have also approved several listed medicines containing fucoidan extracts.

Kemin (Des Moines, IA) relies on an algae called Euglena gracilis from which it sources its beta-glucan ingredient called BetaVia. Kemin’s BetaVia Complete and BetaVia Pure ingredients are available commercially in many regions for use in functional foods and beverages.

“We find BetaVia Complete to be compelling for formulators interested in using whole food ingredients because the product contains beta-1,3 glucans plus protein and multiple nutrients of the whole algae. Its yellow color and mild flavor profile make it very attractive,” says Kim Edwards, MBA, CPMM, global product manager.

“BetaVia Pure is a great choice for formulators looking for ingredients with high beta-glucan content. With greater than 95% 1,3-beta glucan, BetaVia Pure is one of the purest forms of beta-glucan on the market,” she adds.

Further, Edwards points out that the neutral flavor profile of BetaVia Pure works well with a wide range of flavors, and its white-colored powder is simple to add and minimally noticeable in finished products. “Kemin’s customers have formulated with BetaVia in a wide variety of beverages and functional foods such as protein powders, energy bars, shots, eggrolls, plant drinks, probiotic drinks, fruit jelly, and soups,” she says.

References:

  1. Kite-Powell J. “See how algae could change our world.” Forbes. Published June 15, 2018. Accessed at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferhicks/2018/06/15/see-how-algae-could-change-our-world/#1a3641be3e46