The next superfood is more often seen in ponds than on plates, but this is changing fast.
While headlines herald seaweed as the next superfood, few have yet realized the game-changing potential of algae.
As consumers adopt a more holistic perspective on food—price, provenance, health, taste and sustainability all factor into purchasing decisions—algae seems well positioned to succeed on all fronts.
Thrive, the first culinary algae oil to hit the US market, made its debut at an upscale California grocery store in October 2015, and could soon become the next everyday cooking staple. The product has a high smoke point and very low levels of saturated fat, and can be grown in tanks without the large agricultural footprint necessary to produce other cooking oils, making it sustainable as well.
Moreover, it tastes good. “The algal ingredients don’t have any of the flavor ‘baggage’ you’d expect,” Barb Stuckey, chief innovation officer at Silicon Valley food development firm Mattson, told Fortune.
Solazyme, the company that makes Thrive, also markets an algae-derived protein powder as AlgaVia, which, unlike many protein powders, does not add viscosity or grittiness to a mixture. In spring 2016, it’s also rolling out “algae butter,” which a company spokesperson calls “a hard fat from a completely new source.” The product can be used in confectionery, spreads, and baking.
Algae is also being used in faux seafood. The northern California company New Wave Foods is making a “plant-based shrimp,” and a key ingredient is a certain variety of algae that lends its color and flavor to shrimp in the wild. The company ultimately hopes to build a convincing shrimp substitute that will divert demand from threatened fisheries toward their more sustainable product.
In another sign that innovators are taking algae seriously, a recent project from Ikea’s Space10 innovation lab featured a 3D-printed “meatball” grown from algae produced in sustainable fermentation tanks.
Watch to see whether algae can overcome the “ick” factor induced by its slimy, green image to connect with sustainability-minded consumers. For more 2016 trends, download The Future 100.