How Does Algae Create Naturally Nutralent Foods?
by Dr. Mark Edwards
Algae’s dense nutrient set provides natural nutralence in foods. The prior Algae Industry Magazine, Algae 101 post noted that naturally nutralent foods are available today in the form of sea vegetables, microalgae powders and dried seaweed. Naturally nutralent foods can be found at health food, Asian and organic food stores today. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Sunflower, Kroger, Safeway and Costco are also introducing these new foods.
Algae-based foods are naturally nutralent because algae absorb nutrients at levels several times higher than land plants with roots. Land plants waste most their energy on body parts not associated with food, including roots, trunks, stems, leaves, and sexual apparatus. Only a tiny portion of a land plant stores the “fruit of the vine,” which provides food and nutrition to humans.
Algae by contrast waste no energy on extraneous body parts. All the photosynthetic energy in algae becomes focused on nutrient absorption, growth and propagation. A corn plant produces fewer than 600 kernels in a year. A single alga cell can produce over one million offspring each day, 365 days a year. Algae out produce terrestrial crops such as corn by a factor of 30 to 72 times. Each gram of algae delivers twice the protein of each gram of corn. Algae also deliver 3 to 7 times the nutralence – nutrient density – of corn and other food grains such as rice, wheat, and barley.
Algae absorb a wealth of mineral elements that concentrate into as much as one third of their dry biomass. The macronutrients include sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium, chlorine, sulfur and phosphorus, while the micronutrients include iodine, iron, zinc, copper, selenium, molybdenum, fluoride, manganese, boron, nickel and cobalt.
Three nutralence models
Entrepreneurs who wish to offer naturally nutralent foods have three choices today.
- Use available feedstocks such as sea vegetables, seaweeds, or microalgae powders such as spirulina, which are available as commodities.
- Use Solazyme’s new Whole Algalin™ flour and oils. (Availability was announced 30 March 2012.)
- Apply the smartcultures model that infuses field crops such as vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts with algae nutrients.
Sea vegetables are gaining popularity as a snack food and have entered the mainstream food retail outlets. Several companies have made hybrid products that include terrestrial nuts, seeds, grains and fruits in concert with sea vegetables.
Solazyme’s Algalin™ flour looks like a flour, acts like a flour in baking, but is not really flour. The Algalin lipid replacement can substitute for butter, cream, milk, cooking oil or other sources of lipids. The broad product array includes cookies, crackers, cakes and drinks similar to soymilk. These products offer substantially more nutrients per bite and diminished calories by 30 to 50%.
The Algalin flour is produced with the microalgae Chlorella, using fermentation. Fermentation systems grow algae in the dark, feeding the plants sugar for energy. These products miss out on all of the micronutrients associated with photosynthetic algae production.
New photosynthetic algae producers will enter the market soon with algae flours and oils that offer the full range of micronutrients delivered by solar energy and algae. Photosynthetic algae flours not only offer significantly more micronutrients and antioxidants but also are more sustainable because they create rather than consume sugar. Fermentation grown algae hit the market first because the 200 year old fermentation technology benefits from decades of R&D in alcohol and ethanol production.
Algae biofertilizers enable farmers to significantly increase the nutralence of their produce.
Infuse algae nutrients in field crops
Field crop farmers and gardeners can use algae nutrients delivered in the smartcultures process to increase the nutralence of their crops by 100 to 300%. Sustainable MicroAlgae Regenerative Technologies – smartcultures – infuse field crops with algae nutrients through irrigation or direct application.
Growers using smartcultures select one or more indigenous terrestrial algae species from their field. Farmers often use cyanobacteria, a blue-green algae, that has the capacity to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Nitrogen fixation substantially reduces the farmer’s fertilizer cost. Growers may pair the blue-green algae with a green microalgae that serves as a nutrient delivery system and continues to grow in the field, enriching soil organics.
Algae attract a community of symbiotic microflora that work to enable plants to produce their own growth hormones. Algae grow polysaccharide sheaths that open the soil, creating more space for earthworms and other microorganisms. Improved soil porosity enables roots to grow stronger and deeper, creating a better foundation for crops. Smartcultures enable growers to target specific nutrients to crops and precisely the time they are needed in the growing cycle. For example, at fruiting, increased calcium typically improves nearly all the size and sensory dimensions desired in produce.
Field research over two years and several crops with a multinational foods company demonstrated that algae raise the micronutrient profile of field produce by 100 to 300%. Similar micronutrient improvements were found for vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Among the micronutrients are cancer-fighting carotenoids, cholesterol-lowering phytosterols, regenerative chlorophyll, and vitamins that provide a broad spectrum of health benefits.
The three carotenoids include beta-carotene, lutein, and fucoxanthin. Carotenoids boost the immune system and provide protection against certain types of cancer. Carotenoids and other algae antioxidants, protect cells from the harmful effects of cigarette smoke, sunlight, and pollutants.
Carotenoids, particularly beta-carotene, also may help in the battle against heart disease by blocking the formation of bad cholesterol. Medical research shows beta-carotene has powerful anti-aging properties. High intakes of lutein have been shown to reduce the risk of lung cancer, while beta-carotene decreases the risk of cervical cancer. Lutein also promotes clear vision by absorbing harmful UV rays, and helps lower the risk of macular degeneration.
Chlorophyll helps to rebuild and replenish red blood cells, fights carcinogens, has strong antioxidant capacity and removes heavy metals such as mercury from the body. Most importantly, chlorophyll and omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and have been shown to moderate symptoms of over 30 autoimmune diseases.
Phytosterols, like carotenoids, work to reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol entering the bloodstream. They also have a proven anti-inflammatory effect, as well as strong immune-enhancing properties, and increase the body’s production of insulin.
Algae nutrients infused in produce, vitamins and minerals enhance physiological systems including the cardiovascular, respiratory and the nervous systems. Algal components also activate the cellular immune system including T-cells, macrophages, B-cells and anti-cancer natural killer cells. Algal polysaccharides inhibit replication of several enveloped deadly viruses including herpes simplex, influenza, measles, mumps, human cytomegalovirus, SARS, and HIV-1.
Algae’s nutralence, antioxidants, enzymes and extracts, boost the immune system and enhance the body’s ability to grow new blood cells. Algae are rich in phytonutrients and functional nutrients that activate digestive and immune systems. Algae compounds accelerate production of the humoral system (antibodies and cytokines), enabling the body to protect against invading germs.
Today most consumers do not have access to naturally nutralent foods. Solazyme’s Algalin flour will provide the first wave of nutralent foods. The second wave will come from algae companies that produce algae flours and oils photosynthetically, which will offer a broader array of healthy micronutrients.
Farmers and gardeners can fill their produce with nutralence with smartcultures. Algae biofertilizers are extremely effective in transferring valuable micronutrients from algae to higher-level plants such as food crops. The resulting produce has superior color, size, aroma, taste, textures, brix, sugar and shelf life.
Adapted from: Smartcultures: Sustainable Food despite Climate Change and the Mass Extinction of Fossil Resources, Mark R. Edwards, 2010.