algae

Why do cooked seaweeds turn green?

Seaweeds, like any vegetable, can be prepared in a number of ways. They can be eaten raw, fried, baked, boiled, and dried. Each method changes the texture, taste, and in some cases, color.

If you haven’t seen the magic like color change of cooked seaweeds, watch the video below.

Here you see someone blanching kelp, where it turns from brown to bright green in seconds. This happens whenever a brown or red seaweed is heated, but why? As you probably remember from high school biology, plants get their green color from the light harvesting pigment chlorophyll. Seaweeds are no different, red, green, and brown seaweeds contain chlorophyll. However, brown and red seaweeds have additional pigments that give them a different colors; red seaweeds have phycoerythrin while brown seaweeds have fucoxanthin (image below).

It turns out that chlorophyll has a higher melting point (~150 C) than phycoerythrin and fucoxanthin. When Seaweeds are added to boiling water (100 C) the other pigments melt and dissolve leaving behind the bright green chlorophyll. This trick is used for the iconic seaweed salad (wakame). Just as in the video above, wakame starts out brown and is blanched to attain the attractive bright green color.

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Animals fed an algae rich diet produced more nutritious milk.

You truly are what you eat, or what your food eats. A recent study in the Journal of Animal Feed Science wanted to see if feeding goats algae would affect their milk production or quality. In the study, the researchers used the marine microalga Schizochytrium limacinum because of it’s known high fatty acid content of DHA.

Forty dairy goats were tested with varying diets for 31 days, and some groups were supplemented with the algae. The researchers concluded the algae feeding had no negative effect on milk yield and milk composition. However, the microalgae inclusion considerably increased DHA concentration in milk. Additionally, the n-6/n-3 ratio was also more favorable in the microalgae supplemented groups. The 6:3 ratio was reduced from 2.3 to 1.25 indicating higher levels of omega-3’s.

While this study used microalgae, there is considerable research currently on feeding cattle seaweeds for methane reduction. An interesting additional benefit may be more nutritious milk as seaweeds are also rich in omega-3’s.

Seaweeds are one of the best things to eat to help preserve biodiversity and the planet

Last month, the United Nations released a report on biodiversity and ecosystems that found 1 million plant and animal species are currently facing extinction.

The World Wildlife Fund argues dietary monotony leads to a decline in biodiversity since many animals can’t thrive on land that has been transformed to farmlands. Did you know that 75% of the global food supply comes from just 12 plant and five animal species?

In response to this issue, the WWF published “Future 50 Foods,” a list of “foods we should eat more of because they are nutritious, have a lower impact on our planet than animal-based foods, can be affordable, accessible, and taste good.”

On this list there are two seaweed recommendations, wakame, and nori. While the authors clearly selected these on market availability, the same arguments can be made for a variety of seaweeds available by seaweed farms and local foragers.

Variety is the spice of life, but now it seems like it also might be what saves species diversity.

The race to the methane-free cash cow

Methane is a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide, and livestock accounts for about 14.5% of climate-warming emissions worldwide, according to the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. For the past decade, researchers have been investigating the causes and remedies of methane produced by cattle. Between 2016 and 2018 the topic heated to a boil with the discovery that adding seaweed to cattle feed reduced methane burps, especially the red macroalga, Asparagopsis taxiformis.

The race is on!

Scientists all over the world are now intensively working on how to maximize the economic and environmental effectiveness. Researchers are pointing to the bromoform produced by Asparaopsis as the key compound that blocks the production of methane in cows, sheep, goats and other ruminant animals. By changing growing conditions, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, the bromoform concentration can be more than doubled.

Experts are currently debating in which stage to grow the seaweed. The practical considerations include not only the cost of cultivation but its carbon footprint. If growing the seaweed and shipping it to farms generates considerable amounts of greenhouse gas, the process could cancel out the benefits of reducing methane.

Growing Asparagopsis would likely require doing so in tanks of sterilized seawater to prevent contamination of the clingy plant material. That means using some form of energy to pump in air and nitrogen. The problem is it's going to be expensive. The ultimate goal is the most scalable and lowest cost method of production, and to achieve this some point to offshore farming rather than in tanks on land.

There is still some uncertainty with respect to the cattle as well. Will seaweeds reduce methane indefinitely, are there any negative effects to the animals, and will the cows voluntarily eat seaweed infused feed? To address these questions, Ermias Kebreab, an animal science professor at UC Davis, is currently conducting a 6 month feeding trial with cattle.

Many of the outstanding questions will be answered soon enough. Whether motivated by profits or global warming, the race is on to patent recipes for growing, scaling, and processing seaweed for animal feed.

A new book, “Enzymatic Technologies for Marine Polysaccharides” contains an interesting chapter on seaweeds called, “The manufacture, characterization, and uses of fucoidans from macroalgae.

Fucoidans are sulfated, complex, fucose-rich, polymers found in brown seaweeds, most notably the order Fucales known as the fucoids. The chapter details extraction methods and uses in food supplements, pharmaceuticals, bio-materials, cosmetics, and animal/ agricultural applications.

The authors claim that most fucoidan available on the market are for dietary supplementation, however, they admit that the molecule species is hard to identify and robust identification assays should be employed in any bioactive study. There is a new interest in animal health relating to fucoidan, and could be an emerging market.

Focoidans are considered safe and have a variety of uses, again showing how a completely sustainable resource (seaweeds) have a variety of revenue streams.

Operation Crayweed: restoring Sydney's underwater forests.

Sydney Australia used to have a rich coastline teeming with life, and crayweed (Phyllospora comosa) stretched far and wide. Crayweed is a brown macroalga that forms dense bushy habitat for a variety of marine life. Sometime back in the 80s, crayweed largely disappeared, and much of the inhabitants with it. While the cause of the crayweed reduction was unclear, many point to prolonged poor water quality.

The water quality in Sydney has improved, but the crayweed didn’t bounce back as expected. Thus enters Operation Crayweed, an effort to restore the natural population of crayweed around Sydney. The group settles crayweed onto mats, then divers deploy and secure the mats so the crayweed can naturally spread.

Below is a wonderful video outlining the effort. What a good way to rebuild an ecosystem, from the bottom up! Read more about Operation Crayweed at http://www.operationcrayweed.com/

New study examines the lipid profile of the sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima)

A recent study titled ”Polar lipid profile of Saccharina latissima, a functional food from the sea” was just published in the journal, Algal Research.

Saccharina latissima is a brown alga (kelp). It is known by the common name sugar kelp, and also sea belt or Devil's apron, due to its shape. Sugar kelp grows relatively fast and large (about 5 meters, or 16 feet long), and its ability to be grown on a long line also makes it an appealing species for near shore cultivation. Indeed sugar kelp farms have been on the rise within the USA.

The researchers examined all the lipids within sugar kelp important for either nutrition or other commercial use. They reported high levels of PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids), such as the highly prized omega-3s, EPA and DHA that are typically sourced from fish oils. Western diets present high levels of omega-6 PUFAs, with a nutritional ratio omega-6/omega-3 greater than 2, which has been associated with increased risk of mortality due to cancer, cardiovascular, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. However, marine macroalgae, such as S. latissima, present a much higher prevalence of omega-3 PUFAs than land vegetables. A diet rich in omega-3 PUFAs can reduce Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio, being nutritionally more healthful and contributing to the prevention of chronic diseases

NOVAMEAT has Created Artificial Steak using Plants and Algae

NOVAMEAT is a company located in Barcelona, Spain that has found a way to make vegan steaks. The steaks are plant-based and also incorporate algae. The most unique part of their product is they found a way to make the meaty texture by using a 3D printing system (video below).

We reached out to NOVOMEAT and asked what kind of algae is used in their product. While they are still in R&D stage, the most they would say is that sometimes they use macro-algae and other times they use micro-algae depending on the different prototypes and textures needed.

Can’t wait to try these!

Here is a recent article about NOVOMEAT

Blooming 3D-jelly cakes made from seaweed sugars.

If you haven’t heard of a blooming 3D cake, make sure you check out the video or link below. These cakes are built upside down into a jelly cake to create beautiful, edible, works of art.

A recent article highlighted Siew Heng Boon of Jelly Alchemy , who makes her cakes from algae-based gelatin rather than sourced from animals, this makes her cakes vegan friendly.

These cakes look amazing and incredibly fun to make. The video below shows how they are made.

New artificial shrimp are made from algae

A San Francisco based company called New Wave Foods, has just created artificial shrimp from algae products.

Shrimp is a favored seafood in the United States, however, shrimp harvesting and farming has many negative ecological consequences. Enters New Wave Foods: they have found a way to make synthetic shrimp from a variety of algal products. The shrimp texture comes from brown seaweed sugars, the flavor is from green algae oils, and the coloration is from red algae pigments.

Not only are these shrimp vegetarian, but also environmentally friendly.

Watch a video below on how these “shrimp” are made

From the makers of the seaweed surfboard, comes Triton flip-flops: sandals made from algae!

Flip-flops are the number one shoe in the world, and many are made from polymers that don’t break down, causing more pollution in our landfills and oceans.

Triton flip-flops are made from algae and are completely compostable. These alternative materials can help companies and consumers wane off disposable plastics.

Algae derived materials are growing in form and function and we expect that trend to continue.

Watch the video below about this new amazing product.

Farm bill passes that dramatically expands federal support for algae agriculture!

Today a landmark farm bill has been approved by the U.S senate. The bill places algal farming as a top concern for the country and gives algal farmers some of the privileges that traditional farmers have always had.

  • Crop Insurance– Algae are explicitly added under the definition of “agricultural commodity” for the purposes of federal crop insurance programs, paving the way for federal crop insurance for algae production

  • Algae Agriculture Research Program– Establishes a new USDA Algae Agriculture Research Program to address challenges in farm-scale algae production and support development of algae-based agriculture solutions

  • Biomass Crop Assistance Program– Provides for the first time full eligibility to algae under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. BCAP provides financial support to farmers for establishment, production and delivery of new biomass crops

  • Biobased Markets Program (BioPreferred)– Directs USDA to establish methodology providing full credit for biobased content for products from biologically recycled carbon. Current USDA methodology excludes biobased products from recycled carbon.

  • Biorefinery Assistance (9003 Loan Guarantee) Program – Expands the section 9003 loan guarantee program to allow algae-based and other biorefinery projects for the manufacture of renewable chemicals and biobased products to qualify regardless of whether biofuels will be produced

  • Carbon Capture and Use – Adds several provisions expanding CCU research, education and outreach at the Department of Agriculture

This is a big win for algae and the USA!

The bill is to cross president trumps desk for a final signature before Christmas.

You can read the entire 800 page bill here

What the heck is seaweed anyway?

Sometimes we take our phycological education for granted and forget that algal terminology can be a bit confusing. Let’s review some basic concepts to ensure that we are all on the same page when thinking about seaweed.

Alga = singular

Algae = plural

Algaes = not a real word

Microalgae = single cell algae species

Macroalgae = multi-cellular algae species = seaweed

3 branches of algae = red (Rhodophyta), green (Chlorophyta), brown (Ochrophyta)

Kelp = a branch of brown seaweeds (Laminariales)

Plant = Photosynthetic thing on land

A very brief overview of the evolution of photosynthetic organisms.

In the beginning there was a bacterium that learned a neat trick. This bacterium contained pigments that allowed it to capture sunlight and convert it into energy via photosynthesis. The bacterium was engulfed and incorporated by another single celled organism (a eukaryote), this event is called primary endosymbiosis. Its a partnership between the two cells (bacterium and eukaryote) similar to the photosynthetic algae that like inside corals. Through this process red, and then later green, algae came into existence. After this primary endosymbiotic union, secondary and even tertiary endosymbioses occurred - algal cells themselves getting engulfed and incorporated to give rise to other algal groups including macroalgae, browns, and terrestrial plants. If you want to dive into the specifics of how scientists discovered this, here is a good paper outlining how the genetic code of algae lead to the discovery.

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It may seem a little complicated, and in fact it is, its very complicated. But it is super cool and for this reason we don’t like algae being called plants; it’s like calling “fish” … “humans.” On a more humorous note, we do encourage people to call plants, “land-adapted algae”. Again, check out algaebase.org to review all of this and see where your favorite seaweed fits in.

Of Carrageenan and Health

Image of Mazzaella laminarioides by M. Graham.

We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve been asked about carrageenan and it’s ability to cause cancer. Controversy swirls around this molecule and it’s easy enough to google ‘carrageenan’ to find calls for banning its use. For those of you unwilling to read the entire post, let us summarize that carrageenan does not cause cancer! Like any good conspiracy theory, the claim is built off of a grain of truth. A study referencing the wrong molecule exaggerated it’s effects and became sensationalized by the media. That study has been refuted numerous times by a variety of academic and government agencies. However, the damage was done, and the internet is a very unforgiving place for misguided information. We will review the uses, definitions, and conflicting studies behind this controversy.

What Is Carrageenan?

Carrageenan is a component of some red seaweeds most notably Chondrus crispus, also known as Irish moss. The molecule itself is a sugar, a polysaccharide to be exact. There are a variety of carrageenans that are described by their bonding configuration and molecular weights (Mw). These varieties, like most molecules, can take their shape through chemical processing to fulfill different functions. Typically, carrageenan refers to the sugar used in the food industry (Mw 200k-800k Da) as a thickening agent, and can be found in many common household items. The sugar is also non-digestible to humans (stay tuned for upcoming post) making it a sought after additive for low calorie sweets treats. Irish moss has been harvested for over 14,000 years for human consumption, and carrageenan has been used as a thickening agent since at least the 19th century.

Where is the grain of truth?

Dr. Joanne K. Tobacman is the most cited reference in carrageenan attacks. In 2001, she published a review of carrageenan and it’s effects on health in the journal of Environmental Health Perspectives. She cited a study from 1982 that linked degraded carrageenan (also known as carrageenan gum or poligeenan Mw 20k-40k Da) to cancer in lab animals. In her review she also cited a number of papers investigating degraded carrageenan causing intestinal inflammation leading to ulcers and lesions. In her paper, Dr. Tobacman suggested that the use of carrageenan be reviewed by the FDA and change the restrictions to the molecular weight requirements as a food additive.

The rebuttal

It turns out that the term carrageenan was misused in the previous studies. Dr. Myra L. Weiner published a paper refuting Dr. Tobacman in 2016 in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology called ‘Parameters and pitfalls to consider in the conduct of food additive research, Carrageenan as a case study’. Dr. Weiner’s followup paper in 2017 again stated the importance of defining the molecule in question and illustrated the root of the issue in regards to carrageenan. Dr. Weiner laid out the argument that previous studies misused the name carrageenan by confusing degraded carrageenan and poligeenan with non-degraded carrageenan, lacking fundamental understanding of physical/chemical and toxicological properties. Non-degraded carrageenan is used as a food additive, while degraded carrageenan and poligeenan are not. The process to degrade carrageenan requires high heat (95C) and acid (<1pH) which neither occur within the human body. Weiner concluded that the non-degraded form of carrageenan, typically refereed to simply as carrageenan, was perfectly safe for food use and it has continued to be used to this day.

Going forward

The FDA supports carrageenan use and classifies it as meeting organic standards. The EU has also re-evaluated carrageenan as safe, with a clear banning of poligeenan defined by molecular weights. However, there is still pressure to remove the sugar from commercial products. There are still hundreds of ‘nutrition/ health’ articles out there sounding alarm bells to not use products containing carrageenan.

We certainly understand the importance of understanding the food you are consuming, and it’s a shame that some companies have caused such distrust among consumers. There has been so much positive change recently to correct this consumer trust, but there is still a long way to go. The wealth of information on the internet is daunting and confusing when it comes to nutrition. We have embedded all the links to the actual publications and government reports within this post. You can read the letter from the FDA to Tobacman rejecting her petition to ban carrageenan.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: The production of carrageenan is in fact another safe and positive reason to support the rise of seaweed farming in the US and globally. If you hear otherwise, you are probably reading an article recycling the misinformation described above. Always check with your source ….

Do you have a question about seaweed, do you ask a phycologist or an algologist?

It’s tempting to simply add ‘ology’ to the end of a word when referring to the study of a subject. For that reason many people often refer to a person who studies algae as an algologist. The true meaning of algologist is ‘one who studies pain’. From the Latin root word algos meaning pain.

The correct term for the study of algae is phycology, from the Latin root phycos meaning seaweed. The use of the term algology, as the study of algae, is so prevalent that most dictionaries will define it as ‘the study of algae: see phycology’. To make matters worse I have seen algology defined simply as phycology.

Be warned, when using the correct terms phycology or phycologist, be prepared for people and computers to correct you with, “Do you mean psychology?”

AlgaeBase: One of the best algae resources available!

Have you ever gone to your favorite sushi spot and ordered a side seaweed salad made of wakame? While the connotation is that wakame refers to the intertdial species Undaria pinnatifida, the literal translation from Japanese is ‘seaweed’. An alga’s common name can vary by region and language while the scientific name is a global standard. These scientific or ‘Latin’ names can change over time as new discoveries appear; this was the case in the early 2000s with the leaps made in genetic sequencing technologies.

If you ever want to know the history of an alga’s Latin name, or know the common name in any part of the world, look no further. AlgaeBase.org is by far one of the best algae resources available to the public. On AlgaeBase you can look up common names of algae and find all names ever associated with it. You can also find other species information such as ecology, images, global distribution, and common uses. Each bit of information is linked to a vetted document, typically a peer-reviewed journal.

Take a minute and visit the site. Poke around and look up some of your favorite seaweeds, you might be surprised with what you find.