As the alternative protein market continues to grow and companies explore the viability of more sustainable sources such as heat-resistant beans and even crickets, microalgae has emerged as another nutritionally rich contender. Solazyme, California-based producer of renewable oil and bio-products, has gotten in on the action with a whole algae protein product now on US grocery shelves and many more partnerships in the works.
Solazyme’s AlgaVia whole algae protein contains 63 percent protein, along with fiber, lipids, micronutrients, and a full complement of amino acids. It is produced through the fermentation of a native microalgae strain that naturally converts sugars into oils and proteins, then it is harvested, washed, dried, and milled into a fine powder. The product is currently yellow with a slightly nutty taste similar to crushed pistachios, but Solazyme says paler color and more neutral taste variants are in the works.
The vegan, non-allergenic and GMO-free product can be used in nutritional supplements, ready-to-drink beverages, sports nutrition products, powdered beverages, sauces, snacks, breads and cereals. Because of how it interacts (and does not interact) with other ingredients, the powder does not make liquids more viscous when it is added.
“The fact that you can double the fiber as well as the protein content in a cracker by using whole algae protein is really resonating with some customers, while others in the sports nutrition side are building a story around the arginine and glutamate,” Solazyme’s Senior Vice President, Mark Brooks, told FoodNavigator-USA in a recent interview.
Brooks said Solazyme is working with companies large and small to bring AlgaVia to market in a number of products, as well as have a larger impact on food security and nutrition.
“Some of these conversations with tier one food manufacturers we’re actually having jointly with NGOs and even government organizations about how microalgae could be part of nutrition security planning,” he said. “They are not talking about a protein crisis in the distant future, but right now.”
Microalgae is arguably more environmentally friendly than more conventional protein sources since it does not require a substantial amount of landmass for production, which can be easily scaled and have orders prepared in a matter of days. Brooks said the product’s price per unit of protein compares well with peas, rice and high-quality soy.
Solazyme’s products have a variety of other applications that are also at various stages of going to market. Besides producing biofuel for aviation and automotive use, the company announced last year that it would supply algal oil for Unilever’s Lux Soap and expanded its partnership with AkzoNobel to continue to develop alternatives to petroleum- and palm oil-derived chemicals. And this summer, University of California San Diego students used Solazyme’s algal oil to create a surfboard.