Palatable Proteins for Complex Palates Toni Tarver | March 2016, Volume 70, No.3

(Page 2 of 3)

Tiny Algae Have Huge Capacity
The concept of using microalgae as human food is fairly new—at least to Westerners, but Asian cultures have been using microalgae as a source of food for hundreds of years. There are hundreds of thousands of microalgae species (most of which are still unidentified and unexplored), and for some time, microalgae had been associated primarily with certain roles and uses. They constitute the base of the oceanic food chain, serving as food for smaller aquatic organisms that are subsequently eaten by larger organisms (this is why large predator fish have DHA and EPA), and because microalgae are rich sources of DHA and EPA as well as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, some are also used as nutritional supplements. It is partly through microalgae’s use as nutritional supplements that some companies have begun to use them as food and food ingredients.

At this time, the microalgae that have generated the most buzz in food and human nutrition are Dunaliella, Chlorella, and Arthrospira (technically, a type of cyanobacteria). Dunaliella are saltwater green microalgae with a protein content of up to 57% when dried. One of the richest source of beta-carotene on the planet, Dunaliella microalgae are predominantly sold as a powder that can be mixed into beverages. Chlorella are freshwater green microalgae that can have a protein content of up to 60% when dried. They are most frequently made into tablets that can be taken orally or powders and extracts that can be added to various foods such as sauces, smoothies, soups, and beverages. And Arthrospira (also known as Spirulina) are blue-green algae that grow naturally in salty lakes and ponds; their protein content can be up to 70% when dried. Spirulina microalgae are typically made into capsules, tablets, powders, and liquid extracts, and they have been used as food ingredients in a small number of food products.

Human food and food ingredients made with microalgae are few and far between, so there is plenty of room for new product ideas. South Korean food company Paldo, Seoul, South Korea, has two food products made with Chlorella: Chlorella Cup Noodles and Green Tea Chlorella Noodles. A Malaysian manufacturer, Everprosper Food Industries Sdn Bhd, makes Vitame Organic Spirulina Noodles, and MicrOLife, a company based in Italy, produces Spirulina pastas and protein bars under the brand name MicrOLife Nutrition. And Daily Greens LLC, Austin, Texas, makes the organic cold-pressed Daily Greens Hemp Milk, which contains another type of blue-green algae, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae. Hence, the development of microalgae foods and food ingredients is still in early stages. A possible reason for the scarcity of microalgae-based foods is that incorporating microalgal proteins into palatable foods on a large scale is proving to be a challenge: food products containing microalgal protein can have a fishy flavor or aftertaste as well as a green hue. In addition, microalgae grown in open-pond systems are susceptible to contamination, and an alternative means of growing microalgae, using photobioreactors, is cost prohibitive (Lane 2015). However, one company seems to have overcome these issues with a type of microalgae that not only is easy to grow but also has a pleasant taste.

Solazyme’s AlgaVia Whole Algae Protein. Solazyme, South San Francisco, Calif., is an American biotechnology company that originally made a name for itself by using microalgae to produce high-performance biofuels, providing alternatives to petroleum-based fuels. Having realized that the production of biofuels was only part of microalgae’s potential, the company expanded its mission and began using microalgae for industrial applications, personal care products, and food products. “We’ve been studying algae for over a decade, and after screening over 100,000 microalgae strains, we found the algae that was ideal for the kind of food ingredients we wanted to make,” says Mark Brooks, senior vice president, Solazyme Food Ingredients. For its line of food products, Solazyme uses a natural strain of Chlorella originally from freshwater sources in the Netherlands that it grows in closed stainless-steel fermentation tanks. After processing its Chlorella, the company has a soft, fine microalgae powder that yields two products: AlgaVia Whole Algae Flour, a lipid powder that can serve as a replacement for dairy fats, oils, and egg yolks; and AlgaVia Whole Algae Protein, a protein powder that also contains fiber, monounsaturated fats, and micronutrients. Both products are marketed as vegan whole-food ingredients that are gluten-free, free of known allergens, not genetically engineered, and sustainable. Moreover, AlgaVia Whole Algae Protein is said to possess all essential amino acids and a protein content of 63%. “This is a unique combination of a protein that has a complete amino acid profile, is highly digestible (88%), and doesn’t interact with other ingredients or precipitate in a formulation. It delivers vegan protein along with a rich collection of dietary fiber, healthy lipids, and micronutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin,” Brooks says. The company is also promoting a new line of algae oils.

Plant-Based Protein
When it comes to the greening of protein, algae-derived proteins are gaining ground, but they have a long way to go to reach the use, consumption, and applications of plant-based proteins. As industry insiders declare plant proteins the biggest trend for 2016, a class of novel plant foods is propelling its way into the category: Floating freely on the surface of marshes, ponds, and lakes, duckweeds may resemble algal blooms, but they are not microalgae. Instead, duckweeds are the smallest flowering plants in the world. They do not have stems or leaves; rather, they have round or slightly oval-shaped bodies and small root-like structures. Like algae, duckweeds grow rapidly, especially in still or slow-moving waters with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus; photosynthesize, making them beneficial to the environment; and are sources of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and protein. In fact, duckweeds have protein contents of up to 45% of dry mass, which is among the highest protein levels in the plant kingdom. Although they are usually perceived as food sources for birds and fish, people in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and parts of Africa have been eating various duckweeds for centuries. Now, two types of duckweed are the basis for two products being promoted as excellent plant-based sources of protein for humans.

Lentein Plus, developed by Parabel, Melbourne, Fla., is a protein concentrate that is derived from water lentils, members of the duckweed family. It is a fine, free-flowing green powder that can be added to chips, crackers, bars, and cereal clusters. It can also be blended into sports drinks or meal-replacement shakes. “Lentein Plus contains 65% protein. The protein is made in a cold water extraction process and [therefore] retains all the nutrients intact,” says Cecilia Wittbjer, Parabel’s vice-president of marketing. Because Lentein Plus is produced from water lentils grown hydroponically, the product is sustainable. It is also marketed as free of any of the allergens associated with soy, nuts, and dairy. “There will be other ingredients launched this year and next. We hope to have a product portfolio that can be used in most formulations where you would like to have a non-GMO, free-of-major-allergens option,” Wittbjer says. (Parabel won an IFT Food Expo Innovation Award in 2015 for its Lentein products.)

Another duckweed product on the market is Mankai, a whole-food ingredient produced by Hinoman Ltd., Tel Aviv, Israel. It is available fresh or as a dry whole-food powder and can be used in bakery products, health bars, pasta, shakes, and smoothies or sprinkled on salads. For now, the company is focused on positioning Mankai, which has a protein content of 45%, as a whole food or whole-food ingredient rather than as a protein concentrate or isolate. As with Parabel’s Lentein Plus, Mankai is marketed as a sustainable product and is free of nut and soy allergens, gluten, and genetically engineered ingredients.

2016 the year of pulses Protein with a Pulse
A legume is a plant whose edible seeds are enclosed in a pod; a pulse is part of the legume family, but the term refers to only the dried seed. Therefore, all pulses—dried beans, chickpeas, lentils, lupins, and so on—are legumes, but not all legumes—peanuts, green peas, green beans, edamame, and the like—are pulses. And even though legumes are often referred to as vegetables, from a botanical perspective, they are fruits because a fruit is a structure that bears the seeds of a plant. Consequently, this also means that peanuts, peas, and pulses, are seeds. Regardless of which plant food category used to describe them, legumes are very nutritious foods. They are rich sources of fiber, vitamins (especially folate and other B vitamins), calcium and other minerals, polyphenols and other beneficial phytochemicals, and high quality protein. Legumes have protein contents that range 20%–40%, they are gluten-free, and most are free of allergens (peanuts and soybeans are the exceptions). In addition, legumes have been shown to decrease the risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Despite their excellent nutrition profile and positive effects on health, the global consumption of legumes is on the decline and is mostly believed to be the result of the increased consumption of meat worldwide (FAO 2015). However, for vegetarians, vegans, and food manufacturers, the use and consumption of legumes remains significant. Moreover, as more consumers embrace plant-based meals, the demand for high-protein vegetarian and vegan products will continue to grow. In fact, a recent survey by Global Food Forums Inc. indicates that 88% of research-and-development food professionals predict an increase in products made with pea protein, and 74% predict an increase in products made with other legumes (GFF 2015). In addition, the market for pea protein is expected to grow to $34.8 million by 2020 (MarketsandMarkets 2015). This optimistic outlook for legumes is evident by several products already on the market.