Algae: Food of the future
As has become common knowledge by this point, reducing our meat intake – particularly in Western nations – is vital if we want to prevent a climate disaster. The trillion dollar question is: what do we replace it with?
Plenty of meat alternatives are already popular, and the new market in fake meats is booming. Companies like Impossible and Beyond Meat are taking the world by storm, and it seems only a matter of time until fake, lab-grown meat and fish are a staple for many people.
However, no one product can replace meat on its own. We will rely on a whole range of solutions, and the next big contender could be algae. The slimy green mess we are used to seeing floating on ponds and lakes is a lot more diverse and useful than one might imagine – and researchers are starting to take it seriously.
The plant grows extremely quickly. It also does not need ideal conditions and is just as happy growing on saltwater as it is on fresh water. It requires minimal resources and almost no supervision, making it something of a super crop, as well as being sustainable. And that is without considering that its nutrient density is off the charts.
Algae is full to the brim with antioxidants and vitamins, as well as being more protein rich than most vegetables and containing the sort of omega-3 fatty acids which vegans and vegetarians can sometimes find hard to come by. This is because algae is the only known plant source of docosahexaenoic acid which, in turn, raises levels of eicosapentaenoic acid – two of the fatty acids which are hardest to find. Not coincidentally, the easiest way for humans to consume these fatty acids is through fish, whether that is by eating the animal or supplementing you diet with fish oil. Fish contain these high levels of omega-3 because they eat a lot of algae – we could cut out the fishy middleman and simply eat the algae ourselves instead.
And the best part? There are hundreds of thousands of strains of algae, only a small portion of which look and taste like the scummy green plant we are most familiar with. Other strains of algae have been recorded as being rust red in colour and tasting of bacon. Others can be made into a powder which can be used in the production of brightly coloured pasta.
Of course, many of us already consume algae. If you have ever had a smoothie which includes spirulina, you have eaten algae and gained a range of health benefits from it. We have no idea of the scale of what is waiting for us in our algal future, but the initial signs offer a tantalising glimpse of its potential as a major part of the human diet.