Fri 22 Apr 2022

Blooming marvellous innovation in oil

The familiar green gloop most often found in healthy green smoothies is a slimy aqueous plant that might be worth further investment in light of recent world events and impending food shortages. Microalgae has a nutrient blueprint that makes it a robust source of feed for livestock and farmed fish, with a valuable nutrient composition. For humans and animals alike, it is a rich source of omega-3 and omega-7 fatty acids, and with sunflower oil currently becoming something of a rare commodity, oil extracted from algae offers a realistic culinary alternative within the food sector.

Marketed as a vegan alternative to fish supplements – effectively cutting out the fish – the healthy fatty acid profile can be extracted directly from the plant crop. It has a rich oil and fatty acid composition, as well as providing an impressive source of protein. Fish need to eat plankton to generate the fish oils. In short, microalgae can supply a rich smorgasbord of useful metabolites. Oil extracted from microalgae boasts a very healthy nutrient profile, is vegan, odourless, has a high smoke point for cooking and the clever use of different strains and combinations can alter the properties of the oil.

In a blog post for Advanced Biotech discussing innovations in cooking oil:

Culinary expert Zach Hovan recently named oil derived from algae as a new ingredient to look out for. Called the “most efficiently produced oil” in the world, Hovan claims that algae oil has a low carbon footprint and also performs well in kitchen as it is very stable and has a high smoke-point. It also satisfies many current concerns in the food industry, including sustainability, a high omega-9 profile, low saturated fat, and simply made. Relatively flavorless, algae oil can also be infused with various herbal, botanic, and savory flavors to elevate any dish. Although seemingly very unconventional, algae and seaweed are becoming very popular in the food world for their sustainability and availability, making them ingredients that are sure to pave the way for more environmentally and health-conscious products in the future.

Production takes place in a water environment – usually within large aerated tanks – so microalgal products reduce the need for arable land. They also provide a high yield, efficient carbon capture, recovery of nutrients from waste water and are adaptable to a wide range of environmental conditions. Oil and nutrients that can be produced in any climate hold great future potential. There certainly needs to be more research to establish cost effective ways to extract the oil, and ways to ‘feed’ the algal bloom, as sugar is another product with big questions around sustainability.

Unfortunately, at this time, the algae oil product that appears to be widely available is by a US company. Thrive® Algae Oil has the mission statement:

‘We’ve made it our mission to give you the best cooking oil made from algae, poised to be one of the planet’s most sustainably made foods – and an ancient source of nutrition. We’ve sought the advice of health and environmental experts, chefs and foodies to create an everyday cooking oil that you can feel good about eating – and is better for our planet.’

This product is gaining popularity and grabbing headlines in health and foodie magazines across the pond, so it seems likely that it won’t be too long before consumers will wish to have algal oil available to them. Whether for use in the kitchen, or within food products, there is clearly a demand for healthy and sustainable oil alternatives.

With algae not only offering a viable culinary oil alternative, a sustainable feedstuff for livestock and an enviable nutrient profile, it can also be utilised in the production of biodegradable and edible water bottles, food wrapping and more. Perhaps we will find businesses in the UK seek out and explore the green stuff as an innovative way forward.

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