Can algae help to fix our broken food system? Dr Jean-Paul Cadoret is Chief Scientific Officer at Algama and President of the European Algae Biomass Association. At the New Food Conference, which takes place on 10-11 October at Anuga in Cologne, he will share his passion for these tiny organisms. Here, he gives us a glimpse of his vast expertise and explains why algae is surely a key food of the future.
Dr Cadoret, algae comprise a large and diverse group of organisms. What exactly are we talking about?
Algae are the origin of all terrestrial plants. By colonising the land a few hundred million years ago, green microalgae gave rise to all known land plants. Their number alone gives an idea of the magnitude of the potential: to date, it is believed that there are several million species of algae (in comparison: there are about 400 000 species of terrestrial plants). Of these, 70,000 have been identified, and a little less than 100 are used in fields such as healthcare and cosmetics. Only about 30 species of algae are authorised by European regulations for human consumption, including only five microalgae species.
Where do you see the untapped potential of algae?
The exploitable biological potential of algae lies largely in their uniqueness: they have high protein content as well as unknown and atypical enzymatic processes. Their varied biology and biodiversity allow them to evolve in extreme habitats and environments. This immense diversity, revealed after decades of research, offers a vast field of possibilities for biotech applications. We can utilise this biological and biochemical power to produce carbohydrates, oils, vitamins, and even hydrocarbons and biodegradable plastics. As such, we can call them the plants of the future, without hesitation.
What role are algae going to play in future food supply?
We are just beginning to see the potential for algae applications. Apart from aquaculture, where they are used as feed for fish and shrimp farming, there are still very few algae initiatives in the food sector. But this is set to change! Algae offer a multitude of opportunities for biotech applications.
It is possible to extract ingredients from algae in massive quantities, thus tapping into a potentially inexhaustible source of alternative protein. Additionally, algae can provide all the nutrients needed for a balanced diet, including essential minerals and trace elements – and, when properly formulated, without sacrificing taste. Until now, efforts around using algae for food have focused on production systems, via cultivation or harvesting. However, there is still a lot of untapped potential for developments in extracting, processing, and formulating algae in order to access their nutritional value. Algama has been successfully tackling this downstream valorisation since 2013.
How can algae contribute to healthy oceans?
Algae contribute massively to maintaining healthy ecosystems. They absorb excess CO2 in the water column, use nitrates and phosphates discharged into the sea, and provide refuges and spawning grounds for living organisms. They are thus some of the most promising means to counter current and predicted imbalances. Additionally, they fix marine soils and attenuate violent swells. And, last but not least, they do not compete for agricultural land.
Algae-based food products are not just for consumers who are concerned about their diet. They offer the possibility of significantly increasing world food production, thus positively impacting the future, particularly that of the oceans and the planet.
Thank you for the interview, Dr Cadoret.
If you’d like to learn more about the vast potential of algae, make sure that you don’t miss Jean-Paul Cadoret’s presentation at the New Food Conference on 10-11 October. Get your ticket now!