They’ve been sustaining the creatures of our oceans and seas since the beginning of life on Earth – but now phytoplankton, also known as micro-algae, look set to become a human staple.
Why? Because they offer an answer to a complex problem: feeding a global population that is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, while conserving the planet’s ecosystems.
Today, we consume too much animal protein. As the human population grows, the use of arable land for raising livestock looks increasingly unsustainable, especially in terms of the impact on the ozone layer from all that methane. It’s not good for us either, putting pressure on our kidneys and leading to higher incidence of heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer.
Algae full of natural proteins
French startup Algama was formed by three friends (Alvyn, Gaëtan, and Mathieu). They appreciated the positive health benefits of micro-algae from dietary supplements, but didn’t enjoy the experience. They knew if they could make micro-algae a food that people wanted to consume, the planet would thank them.
The benefits of micro-algae are well known in health food circles. The two star supplements Chlorella and Spirulina are a popular addition to smoothies and green juice. Consumers know that micro-algae contain high-quantity natural proteins (up to 70%, compared to up to 30% in meat), along with amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Only a few micro-algae are available on the market however, out of potentially thousands of varieties.
There is an abundance of micro-algae in our planet, meaning cultivation is ecologically pure and resource-conserving. Having more of micro-algae around is even good for the ozone – microalgae photosynthesis is four times more efficient than forests in turning carbon dioxide into oxygen. That’s why the United Nations calls micro-algae a viable and sustainable future food alternative.
A naturally blue spirulinabased drink that tastes good
Of course, if making food (and especially food that people want to eat) from micro-algae were easy, we’d have been doing it long ago. Based in a FoodLab in Génopôle – the French biocluster, located in Evry – Algama has embarked on a major development program of prototypes for everyday food products to change that.
The first prototype was Springwave, a naturally blue spirulinabased drink that tastes good. It earned Algama an award for the best drink from SIAL, the world’s largest food innovation exhibition.
The first product Algama plans to market is a mayonnaise, which will be on sale in France and the United States in 2017. The micro-algae create the same texture as classic mayonnaise, but without the eggs or mustard – good news for people with allergies and vegans. It is also 50-60% less fattening than a classic mayonnaise.
Recognizing years of R&D effort, Algama have some significant backers. They raised €3.5 million in a first funding round led by Hong Kong Investment fund Horizons Ventures, the leading investor in some of the world’s most innovative companies, including Facebook and Spotify. This is helping them develop their commercial offer, with offices in Paris and Brooklyn, New York.
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