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Algae oil: The next big healthy cooking oil? Products have a cleaner taste than other cooking oils, report consumers

By Elaine Watson+

19-May-2015
Last updated on 24-Jul-2015 at 03:51 GMT2015-07-24T03:51:40Z

Solazyme's high-stability AlgaWise algae oil boasts
Solazyme's high-stability AlgaWise algae oil boasts "unprecedented oxidative stability for an oil with zero trans fat…”

Consumer feedback on Solazyme’s new high-oleic algae oil reveals high acceptance levels, with 98% of healthy oil purchasers sent samples for at-home testing reporting it had a ‘pleasant or no aftertaste’, 87% agreeing it had a ‘cleaner taste than other cooking oils’, and 93% saying they would recommend it to friends and family.

The findings of the at-home test with 60 users of healthy cooking oils echoed those of trained sensory panels, which had found that the oils had an “exceptionally neutral flavor”, said Solazyme marketing manager Sally Aaron during a webinar on the new AlgaWise oils last week: “The flavors of the foods you cook really pops out, not the oil.”

As for purchase intent scores, 85% of target shoppers contacted in another survey of 800 consumers said they were ‘very likely’ or ‘somewhat likely’ to buy products containing algae oil, which boasts “unprecedented” amounts of healthy monounsaturated fat (87%+ for high-stability AlgaWise oil; 90%+ for Ultra Omega-9 AlgaWise oil), even compared with olive oil (80%), high-oleic soybean oil (75%), and high-oleic canola oil (70%); coupled with ultra-low levels of saturated fat (less than 9% for high-stability AlgaWise oil; less than 4% for Ultra Omega-9 AlgaWise oil),

The research also showed that consumers were comfortable with seeing the words ‘algae oil’ or ‘algal oil’ on food labels, said San Francisco-based Solazyme, which received a no objections letter from the FDA for its GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) determination for the oils in February 2015.

Exceptional performance, improved nutrition, cleaner labels

There are two products in the AlgaWise range, which is represented by joint venture partner Bunge in North America, and Solazyme in other markets.

ALGAWISE HIGH-STABILITY ALGAE OIL  

  • USP: “It’s all about exceptional performance… unprecedented oxidative stability for an oil with zero trans fat…”
  • Other benefits: No need for preservatives such as EDTA in applications such as mayo and salad dressings; extended fry life; extended shelf-life; high smoke point; lower carbon footprint.
  • Fatty acid profile: 9% saturates - or lower; 87%+ monounsaturates; 2% polyunsaturates.
  • Taste: Neutral.
  • Applications: Frying oil; ideal for replacing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil; pasta sauces; spray oil for crackers, snacks, dried fruits (protects flavors and spices, extends shelf life); also works well in 50:50 blends with olive oil in pasta sauces or bottled olive oils to improve stability and reduce cost.
  • Availability: The oil, which scooped an innovation award at the IFT show in 2014, is already available in commercial quantities.

ALGAWISE ULTRA OMEGA-9 ALGAE OIL

  • USP: “It’s all about improved nutrition… 65% less saturated fat than olive oil, unprecedented levels of healthy monounsaturated fat, and zero trans fat.”
  • Other benefits: High smoke point (higher than soy, palm, canola and olive oil).
  • Fatty acid profile: Less than 4% saturates; more than 90% monounsaturates; less than 4% polyunsaturates.
  • Taste: Neutral.
  • Applications: Spray coatings, dressings, sauces, spreads, margarine, mayo, bottled oil as a standalone or in blends with olive or other oils.
  • Availability: Samples available now, commercial quantities in Q4.

Commercial interest

To date, interest is coming from large and small companies in food manufacturing and foodservice, plus companies interested in bottling the oils and selling them to the retail market either as standalone oils or in blends with other oils, Aaron told FoodNavigator-USA.

GMO factor  

So how are the oils made, and are GMOs involved?

While the chlorella microalgae strain used to make Solazyme’s AlgaVia flours and proteins (click HERE ) is not genetically engineered, its oils and structured fats cannot be efficiently produced in native algae strains, so Solazyme uses GE techniques (eg. introducing genes from other plants, or inhibiting the production of certain enzymes in order to get more of the oil components it wants and fewer of those it doesn’t) in order to make precisely tailored oils with unique functionality.

However, there are no GMOs in the final AlgaWise oils, which are made from an oil-generating algae strain (originally discovered in the sap of chestnut tree in Germany*) that has been genetically engineered to increase its productivity, said Eelco Blum, Product Line Director AlgaVia Microalgae Food Ingredients.

The fermentation process

To produce a batch of algae oil, frozen microalgae is thawed and used to inoculate a flask containing a broth rich in simple sugars and other nutrients (right now the key feedstock is cane sugar from a Bunge sugar mill in Brazil), which the microalgae converts into oil.

The mixture is then transferred into progressively larger fermentation tanks until the desired volume is reached. When the batch is ready, and the algae cells are full of oil, it is expeller pressed out, while left over biomass can be burned to generate energy, said Blum. “It's very similar to the olive oil process."

While water, energy and land is involved to grow the feedstock (sugar cane), the overall environmental footprint of algae oil is lower than that of soy, palm, canola and sunflower oil, he said.

Cooking oil to order

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA last year,  Walter G Rakitsky, PhD, SVP emerging business at the microalgae specialist, said the oil was a potential game changer given that Solazyme is not devoting vast tracts of land to growing crops that can only be harvested once a year, but can instead produce oil ‘to order’, in a matter of days.

He added: “Think about it. We’re changing the paradigm here. If you want to develop a new soybean oil with a certain fatty acid profile through agricultural biotechnology [such as those developed by Monsanto and DuPont] you’re talking about a 10-15 year, $150-$200m endeavor.”

To embark on something like that, you’ve got to be supremely confident that there is a “significant market opportunity waiting for you on the other side”, and that means millions of tons of oil and major infrastructure changes across the supply chain from farmer to fork, he added.

“We can convert sugar to oil in a few days. It doesn’t have to be a decade long multi-million dollar enterprise for us.”

Growing number of application projects in progress

Speaking to analysts earlier this month after posting a $29.5m loss on revenues of $12.6m in the first quarter of 2015, Solazyme CEO Jonathan Wolfson said: "While overall food ingredient volumes remain modest they are building. We brought on three new customers for our lipid powders and proteins ingredients in the quarter including a new purchase by a major global food company.

"We have a growing number of application projects in process with a range of food and beverage manufacturers from leading multinationals to regional and national brands.

"We’re gaining traction in key applications such as beverages baked goods, snacks, sauces and dressings and convenience or prepackage meals.

"Lastly… we entered into a new joint development agreement with Bunge for a next generation high performance food ingredient."

*It is naturally white, lives off of a wide variety of plant sugars and can grow without any light. 

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