OPINION

Microalgae sending food world into a frenzy

Some strains of microalgae contain more than 40 per cent protein. Picture: Shutterstock
Some strains of microalgae contain more than 40 per cent protein. Picture: Shutterstock

I say algae, you say ...

Best call the pool man. The water's gone green again.

Wrong, but close. This is the algae you want - maybe not in your pool but certainly beside it, sipped in the world's next furiously cool and planet-friendly drink.

I've tried spirulina. It was expensive and tasted like puddles.

That's just one type of microalgae. Spirulina has many cousins, and right now they're sending the food world into a frenzy of utopian optimism.

Are we talking seaweed?

Nope. Microalgae are seaweed's teeny relatives. They're invisible to the naked eye, found in both salt and fresh water, and eaten by fish. But these little pond dwellers punch way above their weight.

Tell me more.

Think low-impact production, meat-free protein and a superfood that could fix the world's hunger problems.

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Wow. Microalgae is an over-achiever.

I'm most excited about the promise for plant eaters. Some strains of microalgae contain more than 40 per cent protein. Plus, they're the only known source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids and pack bucketloads of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins - including B12, normally sourced only from meat. Microalgae could let vegetarians eat like omnivores - no meat required, no more daily supplements.

Hello #vegiegoals. Tell me how microalgae will save the world.

The planet's population is set to hit 10 billion in the next 30 years, requiring a 70 per cent increase in food production. If humans continue munching and breeding, we'll run out of protein, land and water. Bring on microalgae, which can be intensively and sustainably farmed with a yield of up to 10 times more per hectare than other crops. And they don't need fresh water or arable land. Microalgae can grow in saline water in an arid landscape - potentially saving the 70 per cent of the planet's fresh water currently used in farming crops and livestock.

Microalgae for president! Microalgae for head of the UN and the WHO!

Wait - there's more. Microalgae are up to 40 times as efficient as trees as removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

I'm sold. But I need to know: do they still taste like pondwater?

Food companies and algae-preneurs are working on that. Sydney start-up Has Algae sells theirs as an ingredient to add mouthfeel and texture to tasty staples.

I guess it's all about finding the right algae-rhythm.

  • Amy Cooper is a journalist who embraces wellness, but has also used kale to garnish a cocktail.
This story The superfood that could fix world's hunger programs first appeared on The Canberra Times.