Why Your Next Meal Might Be Fried with Algae Oil
Just because Thrive Culinary Algae Oil is made from algae doesn’t mean it tastes like pond scum. In fact, it’s about as mild and versatile as a grapeseed oil.
All photos courtesy of Matt Yoka
The world population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Do you think there will be enough cooking oil for the world to use by then?
We've already explored what could happen if a doomsday scenario of completely running out of food were to take place. (In short: chaos.) Nonetheless, this is a serious question that the folks over at TerraVia have pondered, and what led them to create Thrive Culinary Algae Oil, the world's first edible algae oil. Not only is it the newest oil to confuse the hell out of you as you are perusing the aisles of your favorite fancy supermarket, it's also the most sustainable cooking oil out there. From start to finish, it takes only four days to go from algae to a miraculous, buttery liquid, as compared to the months—not to mention loads of water—it takes to grow the canola, corn, or soybeans needed to produce the oil made from them.
But just because it's made from algae doesn't mean it tastes like pond scum. In fact, it's about as mild and versatile as a grapeseed oil. To prove this, chef Ariane Resnick stopped by the VICE offices in Los Angeles this week to hold an algae-based snack tasting. She is a nutritionist, special diet private chef, and cookbook author who partnered up with TerraVia to spread the gospel of algae as a sustainable food source for the future. Her demonstration of this came in the form of algae oil-based "avocado brownies," an herbed cornbread, and a coconut milkshake made with TerraVia's "Lipid-Rich Whole Algae," another algae-based product that the company has been working on to replace the fat and improve the richness in plant-based products.
We reported seeing algae as a health food trend earlier this year at Expo West, where some companies have started using the stuff to recreate the texture of eggs in vegan form. According to Resnick, other companies have started using algae in some of their vegan products to add fat. The main difference between the algae variety that is used to make TerraVia's oil and other ones like carrageenan or agar-agar is that this one is grown in the dark, which keeps it from becoming green and picking up a spirulina-like flavor.
Mark Brooks, TerraVia's senior vice president, tells me that the algae was originally sourced from the sap of chestnut trees in Germany and a freshwater pond in the Netherlands. The algae is classified as a microalgae because it is one-fourth the size of a human hair.
He likens the process of producing the algae oil to the process of a microbrewery making beer. In layman terms, the algae is fed sugars—sugar cane and dextrose—until it grows to contain about 80 percent oil, which is then expeller-pressed. They also press the algae when it is less fatty for the algae-based protein powder.
The oil's smoke point is high, around 485 degrees, and it has 75 percent less saturated fat than olive oil. I definitely couldn't taste any green or seaweed-ish flavors in the brownies, shake, or cornbread. "I have yet to come across anyone who isn't surprised that it is so undetectable in food and easy to work with," Resnick tells me. "It is just about getting people past the idea that the oil is not going to be green and sludgy," she says. According to Thrive, the oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids, a.k.a. "good" fat. One tablespoon of algae oil is equivalent to the monounsaturated fat content of an entire avocado.
It will most likely be a few years before edible algae oil goes mainstream, but the world will probably be a better place once it does make the crossover based solely on the fact that you can get 425 gallons of the stuff in just one acre of land. (You only get a maximum of 50 gallons of canola oil per acre.)
How about we all deep-fry our way to a better planet?