30 Apr 2023
Most food innovations nowadays are trying to make our diets healthier and more sustainable. Algae is such a promising future food ingredient because it affects both those areas. It taps into two growing trends: sustainable farming and functional food.
According to our online semantic analysis, the number of online mentions of these trends will grow respectively 5% and 4.4% this year. Sustainable farming is especially trending in the Italian (+23.9%), English (+23.6%) and Spanish languages (+13.0%). While functional food is big in English (+20.0%) and Japanese (+11.4%).
Curious how micro water organisms can be applied in the bakery and patisserie industry? Then read on!
To be clear, microalgae are not the slimy green water plants you might think of. Edible microalgae such as nori are their microscopically small cousins: tiny organisms found in both fresh and seawater. It's been buzzing for a while around algae, with article after article claiming it is going to be the food of the future. But why exactly?
First, microalgae have a great nutritional value. It is rich in protein, vitamins and minerals and antioxidants. In particular essential fatty acids – omega-3, omega-6 and omega-7 – and the vitamins – such as A, D and E – make it stand out. Most consumers with a Western diet do not meet the recommended daily intake of fatty acids, so algaebased foods could be a great help for that. Algae are also a good plant-based protein alternative to animal-based proteins.
Secondly, the production is highly sustainable. The need for land, water and energy to grow algae is very low, so the environmental impact is low compared to traditional crops. Algae can also be grown in a variety of environments, including freshwater, saltwater, and even in desert conditions.
Algae farming even has a positive CO2 impact, because of carbon sequestration. Algae is a natural carbon sequestration agent, meaning it absorbs and stores carbon from the atmosphere. This helps to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Lastly, algae has a higher growth efficiency than conventional crops, making it perfect for feeding a growing world population. The production is simple, only requiring a photobioreactor, water, minerals, carbon dioxide and sunlight. If those are present, algae can grow very quickly and produce massive amounts of biomass for human or animal consumption.
To feed an ever-growing population we require resources equal to 1.5 planets. If we don't change our ways, by 2030 we will need two planets to support us. Luckily there is a huge potential for algae in the food industry, especially in products such as snacks, desserts, yogurts, pasta and baked goods. There are already several examples of algae-based drinks and plant-based smoked salmon and burger patties.
But supermarket shelves aren’t packed with algae-made products yet, because there aren’t many types of algae that have been approved for use in food products. But the research on all the various applications of algae looks promising. The product also taps into some of the biggest consumer wants, since it is both healthy and has a low environmental impact. So the commercial potential is there as well. Did you know that microalgae can even be used to produce sustainable food packaging?
As a natural colorant: microalgae can be used to color breads, cakes, and pastries. For example, spirulina can be used to add a vibrant green or blue color to macarons and cookies.
As a health ingredient: nutrient-dense algae is a true superfood. It is high in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, so it can make snacks, breads and energy bars extra nutritious and healthy. This makes them great ingredients for traditional bakery applications, as they may contribute to the nutritional profile balance of these products.
As a functional ingredient: algae can improve the texture of baked goods by functioning for instance as a thickening agent for custards, puddings, and mousses.
As a natural preservative: the high level of polyphenols with antioxidant powers make algae suitable as a possible natural preservative. In the future it could be used to extend the shelf life of sweet patisserie and bread products.
As a flavoring agent: While most microalgae have a subtle sea-like flavor, there are specific types with taste qualities that are better suitable for baked goods and patisserie. The Scenedesmus algae is one of them. Its hay-like odor and taste creates a spicy, fresh impression in savory pastries. But there are also types with umami taste qualities which will be very interesting for use in baked goods and laminated pastries.
As a dietary substitute: algae could replace eggs, butter and oil in baking, while providing a similar texture, taste, moisture and richness. This can help create plant-based products that are more sustainable and healthy as well. Algae flour can have a possible function as a gluten-free alternative for cakes, cookies and bread.
Right now, algae are mostly used as a natural colorant. Spirulina and chlorella are the two most important algae varieties that producers can already use. But commercially available food products contain very low percentages, so consumers only see the vibrant blue and green color, but don’t notice the specific taste and smell. They also receive minimal nutritional benefits for the consumption of products containing algae.
Spirulina and chlorella are most easily used in hearty products, such as tortillas, bread or buns, giving them an interesting visual and flavor twist. Restaurant chain Flower Burger uses green spirulina in its hamburger buns for instance. But there are examples of sweet applications too. We’ve come across muffins, raw vegan cheesecakes and cookies.
Do you wish to create your own bakery or patisserie innovation with an amazing blue or green color and added health benefits? “Baking capability is not negatively influenced by an algae biomass concentration of up to six percent”, says Dr Michael Sandmann from the German Institute for Food and Environmental Research (ILU) in an interview.
We would also advise you to combine the microalgae with other strongly flavored ingredients. Spirulina and chlorella have a vegetal, sea-like taste which doesn’t always go well in a sweet treat. Ingredients with a strong aroma and high acidity and sweetness can help balance that. Blueberries, mint and matcha are popular companions for the algae, because people are already used to the blue and green hue of those foods.
Did you know the plant-based market is predicted to be worth 94,2 billion dollars in 2026? Discover this and other must-know facts among our 5 key insights on plant-based consumption.