Much has been written about the potential of proteins such as pea and canola as firms seek alternatives to dairy and other carbon-intensive - and increasingly pricey - animal proteins. But what about microalgae?
From a marketing perspective, it ticks every box. It’s non-GMO, sustainable, vegan, non-allergenic, and bang on trend. But is it commercially viable, and will consumers eat it?
Not surprisingly, California-based Solazyme Roquette Nutritionals (SRN) - the first company to launch a commercial algal protein product targeting the human nutrition market - believes the answers are yes, and yes, although it is still early days.
Mild flavor, heat and acid stability, works well with other proteins
SRN’s whole algalin protein Almagine HP - which contains 50% protein, 20% dietary fibers and 10% healthy lipids plus an array of trace minerals and micronutrients - is grown via heterotrophic fermentation, a controlled process utilizing big industrial vats to grow algae in the dark.
The algal strain in question is the same one used to produce SRN’s novel whole algalin flour, which is rich in healthy fats and fiber and used to partially or fully replace anything that is a source of fat, from egg yolk to butter or vegetable oil, says SRN technology VP Matt Patrick.
“We have managed to increase the protein content to more than 50% by manipulating the fermentation conditions.”
Currently, the product is produced from a large pilot facility, but the firm is now constructing a full scale facility that should be operational “in the middle to Q3 of this year”, says Patrick. A third facility is in the engineering phase, meanwhile.
A lighter, less dense texture than whey protein in bars
So who’s buying?
Patrick says the product is generating interest from a wide variety of manufacturers looking for cost-effective sources of protein for everything from powdered supplements to bars and ready-to-drink beverages.
“We know that we have to develop something that is comparable or better than current alternatives on a cost-in-use basis,” he says. But the product also has key technical advantages, aside from its ‘green’ and label-friendly credentials.
“One of the attractive aspects of Almagine HP is that it doesn’t interact with some other food ingredients, it’s heat stable, has a mild flavor, it’s stable in low pH environments, heat stable, and it blends well with other proteins”, he observes.
“It also has a lighter, less dense texture than whey in protein-fortified bars, while chocolate bars with it have a less gritty or particulate feel.
“It also works very well in opaque beverages such as dairy and dairy analogs.”
The protein market is heating up
He adds: “The protein market is kind of heating up right now. Dairy prices are shooting up and we’re seeing a growing market of ‘designer proteins’ available in small quantities hit the market. People are also developing protein cocktails.
“We’re pretty excited about what we have to offer both in its own right but also in combination with other proteins. The market has been very receptive. They also know that this is just the beginning, that there are other products to come [SRN has already launched a ‘whole algalin flour’ and is currently developing new oils and fibers for commercialization].”
Moving onto Almagine HP’s nutritional profile, Patrick notes that “all the amino acids are in there, although what people want varies according to application, so we’re seeing interest in using it alone and in protein cocktails.”
But what do consumers think? While some people might see it fitting nicely into the plant protein space, it’s not technically a plant, Patrick points out.
But the word ‘whole’ (it’s listed on pack as ‘whole algalin protein’) definitely resonates with shoppers, who are looking for wholefoods and supplements, he says.
Click here to read part two of this article, our interview with Aurora Algae.
Click here to watch our video interview with SRN president Jodie Morgan at the IFT show last summer.