Europeans embrace a new wave of seaweed ingredients

6 Jun 2018

Seaweed ingredients are on the rise, set to appear in a wide range of new products in Europe in the coming years – far beyond the traditional sushi and miso soup.

According to Mintel data, new food and drink products containing algae and seaweed ingredients doubled in Europe from 2015 to 2017. Spirulina, often used as a natural colorant, accounted for about two-thirds of new products containing seaweed, but other varieties are starting to appear, including sea vegetables like wakame, nori and kelp, as well as seaweed extracts and seaweed-derived seasonings.

Europeans embrace a new wave of seaweed ingredients

The nutritional profile of algae depends on the variety, but many are rich in protein and minerals such as iodine, potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron. They can also be high in vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as fibre and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Algae’s protein content makes it a particularly promising ingredient for companies looking to capitalise on consumer interest in plant-based protein. Chlorella, for instance, outperforms many land-based protein sources with about twice as much protein as soy and about eight times as much as rice.

Seaweed ingredients have also gained in popularity as companies have sought ways to cut salt in their products. By accentuating the savoury flavours in foods, umami-rich seaweed extracts are being used as ingredients for salt reduction and to replace MSG. However, the benefits of seaweeds’ taste profile could extend far beyond clean labels and lower salt, as they create a more satisfying eating experience – and therefore reduce the impulse to overeat.

Among the companies working with seaweed-derived ingredients, Israeli firm Salt of the Earth says its Mediterranean Umami product – which contains seaweed extract and other umami-rich ingredients – can cut both salt and sugar in condiments and sauces by playing up their hearty, savoury flavours. Another Israeli firm, Algatechnologies, cultivates microalgae primarily for its astaxanthin content for use in supplements, while French company Algaia works with local fishermen to harvest brown seaweed to make extracts like carrageenan and alginates for gelling and thickening foods, as well as specialty ingredients like healthy lipids, proteins, pigments and micronutrients.

Alongside seaweeds’ nutritional benefits, they are also a compelling option from an environmental perspective. Finding enough land to produce food for a growing population is one of humanity’s greatest challenges, so looking to the oceans for a nutritious and fast-growing food supply is an attractive option. Seaweed requires no irrigation water, pesticides, fertilisers or agricultural land, making it one of the world’s most sustainable raw materials for food.

Most new European products containing seaweed ingredients over the past few years have been in the snack category, according to Mintel. Other popular segments for seaweed-based innovation include sauces and seasonings, bakery, and soup. However, although the use of seaweed and algae has grown rapidly, such products still only account for about 1.4% of all new product launches in the region.

Companies working with these ingredients stand to benefit from their strong nutritional and environmental positioning, but they must deliver on taste if they hope to bring them to mainstream consumers.

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