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Algae: Protein Powerhouse from the Sea

When one hears the term “alternative protein source,” tofu, tempeh, and seitan are what typically come to mind. But the list doesn't end there: In the March issue of Food Technology, Toni Tarver writes about several lesser known, but just as nutritious and palatable, alternative protein sources.

Algae-Derived Proteins

Algae are a diverse group of photosyntehetic organisms that are chiefly aquatic, contain chlorophyll, and generate oxygen—in fact, algae are responsible for nearly half of the photosynthesis that occurs on Earth. Algae are categorized into two forms: macroalgae and microalgae. Macroalgae are seaweeds and are visible to the naked eye and grow in oceans, lakes, rivers, and ponds. Microalgae are single-cell organisms that can only be seen with the aid of a microscope (unless they link together to form algal blooms), and mostly occur in fresh and marine water. Both micro- and macroalgae are nutrient dense with varying amounts of vitamins A, C, E, folate, calcium, iodine, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, and a variety of other nutrients. The protein content of macroalgae ranges from 3 to 50% and microalgae’s protein content is even higher, ranging up to 70%. Spirulina and Chlorella are examples of two popular algae supplements.

Super Seaweeds

Among seaweeds, red seaweed tends to have the highest protein content; and the red species, nori, has the greatest amount: 100 grams of nori contains up to 50 grams of protein. Nori has an amino acid profile similar to that of peas or beans, contains a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids, and is a good source of vitamin B12. Nori is commonly used to wrap sushi rolls and dried nori is sold in sheets that can be either cut into strips to wrap rice and fish, or cut into small pieces to sprinkle on soup and noodle dishes.

Source: Institute of Food Technologists

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