1 Oct 2020

Algae could soon be on the menu as an alternative protein

7:45 pm on 1 October 2020

A superfood made of algae could soon be on the menu.

Dr Tom Wheeler.

Dr Tom Wheeler. Photo: Supplied / Cawthron

Nelson's Cawthron Institute has been granted $3 million from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment's catalyst fund to investigate the potential of two algae species as a food source.

The study would focus on the red seaweed, Karengo and the micro algae Chlorella as everyday alternative protein sources.

The Cawthron-led study would be helped by researchers in New Zealand and overseas.

Research leader Dr Tom Wheeler said the aim was to gain greater knowledge of the full health and commercial benefits of the protein-rich species.

"The challenge is that protein is not easily accessed and what the research is going to do is devise processing methods that will cost-effectively access those proteins so they can be used as ingredients in highly nutritious foods.

Karengo was related to popular edible seaweed nori - used to make sushi - and was a traditional food source for Māori.

It contained a large amount of protein and if used a a food course was likely to deliver all essential amino acids, a range of micro nutrients including Iron, Iodine, B group vitamins and anti-inflammatory bioactives.

"Seaweed is set to become the third pillar of New Zealand's aquaculture industry alongside finfish and shellfish and this kind of research and development will inform investment and policy making that supports the sustainable long-term growth of the industry," Dr Wheeler said.

He said Karengo had a distinct taste similar to nori, to which it was related, but it was distinct.

The native species typically grew on rocky foreshore inter-tidal zones the length of the South Island east coast, and on part of the North Island coast.

"It's one of our natural resources with varieties that are different from anywhere else in the world."

Dr Wheeler said there was increasing demand for alternatives to meat and dairy for nutrition, and algae presented a promising source of future ingredients. It could be produced more sustainably and with lower environmental impact.

New Zealand based research partners, the Riddet Institute, the University of Auckland and Plant & Food Research held expertise in food science and technology, as well as plant extraction.

Dr Choi Won Jae of Singapore's Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation said their research team would develop methods for the extraction and enrichment of proteins from Chlorella.

The Cawthron Institute has been investigating Karengo's superfood potential alongside industry partners Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Wakatū Incorporation since 2019 in a research programme funded by the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge.

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