Another food revolution: algae

I recently summarised some great reasons why we should start eating more insects. They’ve been consumed by different cultures throughout the world’s history and are plentiful and really nutritious.

But some other people have been exploring even more unusual sources of food for future, those that haven’t been consumed for millennia. One really interesting example is algae.

 

Algae are really cool creatures to start with. Living in our oceans and ponds, these unicellular organisms produce an awesome proportion of the global oxygen supply, estimates varying between 50-85% of the world total. They produce this oxygen via photosynthesis, just like trees and plants, but don’t consume as much as they produce (unlike most other plants) so they contribute far more to giving the rest of us oxygen. In doing so, they are also great consumers of carbon dioxide as part of making this oxygen, so it’s a win-win situation!

1280px-photosynthesis_equation.svg_
The equation for photosynthesis, in case you needed a refresher! Sourced from Wikimedia Commons

So for their environmental impact in terms of the current global climate change problem, they’re great. So if we started farming them for food, we’d get good food and lessen our environmental problems with current agricultural crops.

 

Nutritional value

You’ve probably heard that you should eat fish because they’re a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, important for everything from your mental health, to your eyes, to reducing risk of heart disease, among other benefits. Well, guess where fish get their great levels of omega-3 from? The algae that they eat.

So when you consume algae, you skip the fish in the middle (making algae a vegetarian and vegan food source) and absorb the omega-3 better than in other plant-based sources, which often contain only 15% of usable omega-3.

Algae are also a source of Vitamin B as well as iron, magnesium, zinc, and potassium with as much protein per serve (1 Tablespoon) as in half a cup of milk. So they’re really good and healthy and easy to add to a smoothie, salad or as a substitute for any other powdery topping in your kitchen.

 

 

Environmental positives

In the face of a world that has warmed, and appears to be continuing to do so, deserts are enlarging and traditional crops are struggling in different weather and soil conditions and up to 70% of the world’s available fresh water is used in agriculture.

On the other side, farming animals, particularly cows, produces high levels of greenhouses gases, as do other common human activities, such as generating electricity.

 

All algae need to grow is a salty pond, lots of CO2 and they’re not too fussed about rising temperatures. Many areas that are considered desert were abandoned by famers because the only water they contained was incredibly salty. But that means the land is just fine for growing huge crops of algae, making the industry incredibly sustainable and economical because it’s using otherwise useless land.

The requirement for CO2 is hardly a problem, with current rising atmospheric concentrations, and the high CO2 consumption by algae can be utilised next to power plants to reduce net carbon emissions.

And when the algae is harvested, effectively via filtration through membranes, the result is almost completely pure water that can be immediately reused in the ponds, creating an incredibly water-efficient system.

 

 

So perhaps you’ll be eating insects with algae sauce in not too long!


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