A new wave of superfoods are being cultivated in Adelaide labs in the hope it’ll provide alternative ways to sustainably feed the world’s increasing population.

Key points:

  • Scientists are developing a new form of superfood proteins derived from microalgae
  • The research found microalgae can be manipulated to become nutrient-rich
  • Microalgae can significantly reduce the planet’s carbon footprint

A team of Flinders University scientists have developed alternative proteins to consume, but instead of meat, food products like caviar, vegan patties, plant-based meats, jelly, jams and spreads have been developed from marine microalgae.

The substance is usually found in the ocean, but scientists at the university have been cultivating it in labs and turning it into consumable forms.

Artist in residence Niki Sperou has helped scientists develop these prototypes in the hope it will be rolled out industrially.

Artist in residence Niki Sperou.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

“We’re able to manipulate the raw materials to mimic just about anything that’s out there on the market, we just play with the textures and the flavours and we can find something that is attractive and palatable to most people,” Ms Sperou said.

She said the team had even developed “algae-mite” and although the microalgae product tastes like seaweed in its raw form, new technologies can alter flavours to make it taste like anything.

Algae manipulated for different uses

Professor Wei Zhang said microalgae could be manipulated to become protein dominant and nutrient rich, providing health benefits for the consumer.

Professor Wei Zhang said microalgae’s composition can be manipulated, so it can be used in many ways.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

“We have the ability to change its composition and therefore its fit for different food and nutritional applications,” Mr Zhang said.

Research engineer Peng Su said their team can even control how it behaves after being eaten.

Mr Su said coffee, for example, could be encapsulated within micro-algae balls and manipulated to be released slowly.

“I can have coffee [in ball-shaped products] and still have the benefits of coffee, but have it slowly released over 24 hours, so I won’t get a headache,” he said.

Researcher praises green benefits

Senior researcher Kirsten Heimann said most importantly, the product significantly reduces humankind’s carbon footprint.

Flinders University senior researcher Kirsten Heimann said the product reduces humans’ carbon footprint.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

“Microalgae are really well equipped to clean up the mess we create, like absorb carbon dioxide,” Ms Heimann said.

“That’s enormous — that’s equivalent to a rainforest.

“We need to find alternative sources of protein that actually draw down the carbon dioxide and supply the high-quality food for a healthy human population.”

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