When you hear the word “algae” you might be picturing the greenish film that develops on ponds and lakes. This marine organism, too, is cultivated for its oil as well as eaten for its health benefits. Algae comprises some 40,000 species, ranging from the well-known seaweed to single-celled microscopic organisms like sea moss. They all rely on energy coming from sunlight or UV light and carbon dioxide.
Sea moss in particular is a rising food superpower. It’s a type of algae that is similar to seaweed, kelp, and dulse. It grows in a number of colors, from green and yellow to brown and black.
Before we set out to show the various ways that algae is used or consumed, let’s look at the nutritional properties. Algae boasts of high levels of iron, calcium, vitamins A, C, and K, magnesium, potassium, and selenium. It’s also a notoriously great source of iodine, which is crucial for thyroid health but is mostly missing from most other foods.
Algae also contains high vitamin B12 levels, which is good news for vegans since it’s one of the nutrient’s few plant-based sources. While low in fat it’s high in fiber, positioned as a wonderful weight loss aid.
Let’s go to the various ways you can use algae.
Marine algae offers unique oil that’s packed with omega-3 fats. Fish oil also does supply these healthy fats, but algae oil is a plant-based alternative if you don’t like fish oil or don’t consume seafood.
Specific microalgae species are rich in two widely celebrated omega-3 fats: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Thus they are grown specifically for their oil.
A study shows that the percentage of omega-3s in microalgae is quite comparable to that of different fish species. In controlled environments, it’s also easy to increase the omega-3s in algae through their UV light exposure, temperature, oxygen, and other factors.
Marine algae oil is extracted, purified, and then used in various ways, such as to enrich animal feed. When you consume eggs or chicken enhanced with omega-3s, the fats likely come from algae oil. The oil, too, is an omega-3 source in infant formula, omega-3 supplements, and other food sources.
Face and Beauty Aid
Beyond eating algae, the topical applications are also on the rise. Many commercial skincare products today contain various types of algae and seaweed.
Marine algae is commonly used in skincare for its hydrating properties, as the species often contain molecules that bind and hold water. Algae is also useful as a natural mixing agent in skincare, holding the other ingredients together so there’s no unwanted separation during storage.
Algae is also notoriously known for antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-irritant properties. Sea moss, for instance, is already incorporated in DIY at-home skincare solutions as a face mask, lotion, or moisturizer. Furthermore, it finds practical use as a hair and nail care aid.
Food and Delicacy
Worldwide, there are so many traditional and modern ways that algae is used as food. Here are some of them:
- Huge sheets of dried nori used in sushi, used as alternative to bread and tortillas, or used for delicious wraps
- Roasted seaweed for a salty crunch in snacks and appetizers
- Seaweed flakes as topping for grains and simple flavoring to dishes
- Wakame as a seaweed salad, known for its chewy, stringy texture and slightly sweet taste
- Kombu – a type of kelp with umami flavor – for flavoring bean soups, offering rich and healthful enzymes. It can also be used for making dashi or Japanese stock and act as a digestive aid.
- Arame, brown Japanese kelp, sauteed in many parts of Asia, as well as in Peruvian and Indonesian cuisine
- Dulse or red seaweed often dried and flaked, with a taste similar to bacon when fried and can be turned into a kale chip alternative
- Sea moss gel as a thickening agent in puddings and desserts, soups and stews, and other foods
In the real world, not everyone has access to high-quality algae such as sea moss. There are farmed versions of them, too, grown in pools and therefore may not have the same complete properties of natural ones. In this case, supplementation might be key and provide the promised benefits with prudent use.