Algenuity: Harnessing the power of algae
Alex Pudney, chief scientific officer of Algenuity, speaks with NutritionInvestor about the partnership with Unilever and the uptake of algae-based ingredients in food and drink products
Companies looking for plant-based ingredients have turned their sights on algae and Chlorella is at the top of the list. The nutritional profile of the green freshwater algae packs a punch, providing protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Research into its components has found that Chlorella helps improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels, among other health benefits.
But there’s a catch. We cannot digest the hard cell wall of Chlorella and for this reason, the powder form has become a sought-after ingredient for use in food and drink products.
Algenuity is among the many companies in the biotechnology space with the expertise to turn Chlorella into a high-performing ingredient. The company works with Chlorella vulgaris, a type of algae known for its protein-rich content.
“Chlorella vulgaris has been produced at commercial scale for consumption as a food and nutritional supplement for around 50 years,” Alex Pudney, Algenuity’s chief scientific officer told NutritionInvestor during an interview conducted the day after Unilever announced its partnership with the company to explore the potential use of Chlorella in future product development.
According to Pudney, the ingredient was largely used in Japan and Southeast Asia but was soon exported globally, forming a historical basis of safe use.
“Today Chlorella vulgaris products are produced and sold all around the world to a growing market, with major drivers being an increasingly health-conscious population and the popularity of flexitarian diets, largely enabled by the ever-growing availability of animal protein alternatives in new food products,” explained Pudney.
Algenuity’s Chlorella Colours
In addition to containing the associated nutritional benefits of being a whole plant cell-based protein, Algenuity’s Chlorella vulgaris also functions as a structural, binding and emulsifying agent in food formulations.
Pudney said that such capacity allows it to act as a vegan-friendly substitute for animal-based ingredients, such as eggs, in a whole variety of foods, from mayonnaise and vegan dairy products to pasta and even textured vegetable protein, better known to the consumer as plant-based meat.
Chlorella Colours is Algenuity’s platform based on Chlorella vulgaris derived from a proprietary, high-performing microalgal strain. The company has removed the bad-tasting chlorophyll from the algae and thus is said to deliver improved organoleptic properties to food and drink formulations.
The platform has been approved for the European food market as an ingredient in food, drink and supplement products.
Algenuity’s Chlorella Colours made its debut at Vitafoods Europe 2019 and Pudney said interest has been high and sustained from food manufacturers of all sizes and producing a whole range of innovative products.
He explained: “Often, people have approached us with new application ideas that we hadn’t even thought of, and so our priority has been to supply product samples to interested parties for their own development process, prior to us entering full-scale commercial production in 2021.”
To the point
What applications are Chlorella Colours being used for?
Because of its functional and nutritional properties, Algenuity’s Chlorella Colours ingredients are suitable replacements for animal-based ingredients in existing products, but we have also been really excited by the range of new applications these ingredients are finding – from smoothies and dairy-free drinks to numerous new food applications that are enabled by the absence of chlorophyll in our product.
What can you tell us about working with Unilever?
The work will be jointly carried out between Algenuity, in our food-grade pilot facility in Bedfordshire, and The Hive, Unilever’s foods innovation centre located in Wageningen, Netherlands.
There will be a cooperative process of ingredient and product development between the two teams to produce healthy, tasty and sustainable food products made with microalgae.
Looking at the microalgae protein segment, where does Algenuity stand in terms of competition?
Globally, we need a radical overhaul of our food system if we want to feed the 10 billion people who will live on the planet by 2050 in a fair, sustainable, and nutritious way. Microalgae are a large and diverse group of organisms, with strong sustainability credentials as a crop.
Because of their varying but generally impressive nutritional content, there are several high-profile projects to economically produce great-tasting, functional microalgae ingredients at the scale required to be genuinely impactful in reducing global dependence on animal protein.
Algenuity holds key intellectual property and know-how in these areas and our choice of Chlorella vulgaris also respects the current regulatory status of microalgae produced for food within the European Union.
What’s the outlook for the use of Chlorella in the future?
Chlorella vulgaris is a nutrient-rich, plant-based source of protein and fibre that can be produced safely, with a low environmental footprint and in closed vessels. In many ways, it’s an ideal food crop.
By removing the bad-tasting chlorophyll from our Chlorella Colours range, I believe that Algenuity has fully unlocked the amazing potential of this microscopic plant to have a substantial, positive impact on the much-needed transformation of our global food system.