LONDON, March 20 — Ever heard of wakame, nori or spirulina? These are all types of algae. Currently still quite niche, these marine foods are expected to take a larger place on our plates in the coming years. For nutritional, but also environmental reasons, Europe plans to promote the algae industry via a digital stakeholder platform, which will bring together producers, consumers and researchers.

Algae on the up 

According to market analysts Technavio, the algae market is set to grow significantly. By 2026, the value of this segment is expected to increase by 6.74 per cent, to reach US$1.31 billion (RM5.5. billion). One of the main reasons for this predicted rise is algae’s richness in nutrients, which puts it in a position to be considered a substitute for meat. And not just in human diets, as replacing animal proteins in livestock feed with this kind of substitute could also be envisaged.

Regarding microalgae, which are different from macroalgae, such as nori, because the former are composed of a single cell, these species “grow rapidly and therefore have yields per hectare nearly ten times greater than those of cultivated land plants,” explains Pierre Colas, a researcher from Inserm, at the Station Biologique De Roscoff research center, quoted in the magazine published by the French scientific institute. The expert continues: “They do not encroach on agricultural land. Finally, as they consume CO2 (via the process of photosynthesis), they can capture it, if they are grown near industrial centers, and thus help fight against global warming.”

A European platform to promote algae for nutrition 

The European Union has set a timeframe of three years in which to transform the consumption of algae into a significant industry. It intends to do this by launching an online platform that will promote all the positive benefits that algae can offer consumers. Something that vegans are already well aware of. Algae are rich in DHA-type omega 3, a fatty acid which helps the good functioning of the brain, as well as the heart and the retina. And it’s no coincidence that algae is a major component of the diets of many Asian consumers. As well as being a source of that famous fifth flavour called umami, they are also rich in antioxidants, vitamin B12 and help regulate cholesterol.

The European project, called EU4Algae, also has an environmental dimension. The EU wants to promote algae as a sustainable resource to be considered for use in wider industrial applications. “Moreover, their production helps improve ocean health by reducing carbon dioxide, phosphorus and nitrogen in marine ecosystems,” says the European Commission, which is behind the launch.

The platform is expected to go live by the summer. It will bring together different stakeholders who may be involved in this new industry, from seaweed producers to retailers, researchers, investors, public authorities and NGOs. Consumers will also be invited to get on board with the initiative, and will find a wealth of information on how to integrate more algae into their diets. — AFP