For many years, algae was a bit of an underdog and didn’t really get the attention it deserved for its superpower abilities. But now, it’s quickly rising up the ranks, with entrepreneurs and scientists discovering the many amazing applications of the aquatic plant, from being a natural source of plant-based nutrients to a game-changing ingredient for sustainable alternative proteins and even eco-friendly clothing. To give algae the spotlight, we’ve put together some of the fantastic things we can do with algae.
1. Algae Heme
Chicago-based ingredients startup Back of the Yards Algae Sciences (BYAS) has leveraged algae to make heme – the molecule that plant-based food tech Impossible Foods relies on to make its famous “bleeding” beef patties that are completely animal-free. While still in beta-mode, the algal heme that BYAS has developed using spirulina has been tested and described as a “game-changer” in improving the taste, bite and texture of plant-based meats, while adding healthy nutrients and being completely GMO-free.
2. Algae T-shirts
British apparel brand Vollebak makes its Plant & Algae t-shirts out of – well you guessed it – raw plant materials like eucalyptus and algae grown in bioreactors. This “part t-shirt, part worm food” is special because it can decompose in just 12 weeks once buried in the soil in your backyard, making it truly a zero-waste product that doesn’t contribute to landfills. Vollebak says that they also chose algae because it is adaptable for inks used on fabrics and textiles. Unlike traditional fabric dyes, the 3D-printed algae ink naturally de-colours over time due to oxidation.
3. Algae Omega-3
Many people believe that omega-3s can only be found in non-plant-based sources such as fatty fish, but there are many plant foods that do offer our healthy dose of the fatty acid. The answer is algae, which shouldn’t come as a big surprise, given that fish contain omega-3s precisely because they eat algae. Some of the different types of algae that are great sources of both DHA and EPA fatty acids include nori, spirulina and chlorella. While nori is the type of seaweed used to make sushi, chlorella and spirulina is often sold in powder form and can be easily added into smoothies, porridge and juices.
4. Algae Textiles
Algaeing, a female-led startup based in Tel Aviv who recently won the VWS Pathfinder pitch competition, is harnessing the power of algae to make eco-friendly fibres. The firm has developed a proprietary method to spin sustainable bio-fibres in a 100% closed loop system, as well as create dyes that are made with algae. CEO Renana Krebs says that this algae-based solution will “actively enable sustainable manufacturing” for the textile industry, one of the biggest polluters of water and contributors of landfill waste and carbon emissions.
5. Algae Milk
Unless you’re living under a rock, it’s pretty hard to miss all the plant-based dairy alternatives now stocked in your local supermarket, from almond to soy and oat milk. But have you ever heard of algae milk? A brand new French startup called Update Foods is now creating the “perfect vegan milk” using faba beans and oil extracted from algae, and say that their unique combination can compete on taste, texture, appearance, nutrition and cost of real dairy milk.
6. Algae Energy Bars
Indian startup Naka Foods upgraded your typical energy bar with superfood algae spirulina – an ingredient packed with protein, vitamins, iron and amino acids. Their product, called the 4pm Bar, is bursting with so many nutrients that it’s comparable to the amount in an entire bowl full of fresh fruits and vegetables.
7. Algae Chicken
But Naka Foods isn’t stopping at energy bars, and are now developing plant-based chicken using algae too. Though it’s still under development, their new plant-based chicken analogue is made from spirulina, jackfruit and chickpeas, and has even set its sights on using the super seaweed to make a plant-based fish product too.
8. Algae Shrimp
Plant-based seafood maker New Wave Foods, which has just reeled in US$18 million in fresh capital, is about to launch its first product on the market – plant-based shrimp. What’s the secret? Again, it’s algae! While the exact ingredients of its shrimp substitute still hasn’t been disclosed, the food tech did reveal that its product will be made from the seaweed and non-GMO plant proteins, which gives its “virtually indistinguishable” taste and texture.
Lead image courtesy of 123rf.