The next big thing in heart-healthy oils

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If you thought extra-virgin olive oil was the healthiest oil around, you might want to reconsider.

Algae oil droplets: Solazyme highlights its healthy, high-nutrient AlgaWise oils.

Now, there's a clean, green kid on the edible oils block: AlgaWise™ High-Stability Algae Oil, a new "high-performance" microalgae-based oil developed by San Francisco-based company Solazyme that boasts a flotilla of benefits, from a neutral, non-fishy flavour to exceptional oxidative stability, nutritional potency, sky-high levels of healthy fats and zero trans-fats.

The “unique combination of performance, improved nutrition and sustainability” netted AlgaWise™ High-Stability Algae Oil an Innovation Award at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT)-2014 Food Expo – with the judges unanimous in their decision for the first time in decades.

Solazyme also makes a ramped-up version: AlgaWise™ Ultra Omega-9 Algae Oil, which it claims is “all about improved nutrition, [with] 65 percent less saturated fats than olive oil, unprecedented levels of healthy monounsaturated fat, and zero trans-fat”.

How are the oils made?

Both oils are made from an oil-generating algae strain initially found in chestnut tree sap that’s been genetically engineered to increase its productivity, though Solazyme says the final oils contain no GMOs.

To produce the oil, flasks full of simple sugars and other nutrients (with the key feedstock being cane sugar) are inoculated with microalgae, which convert it into oil. The mix is then transferred to successively bigger fermentation tanks until the desired volume is attained and enough algae cells are filled with oil. Then the oil is expeller-pressed in a process similar to that used to create olive oil, and the leftover biomass is burned as fuel.

What have they got that other oils haven't?

The new algae oils have a flotilla of selling points, including:

  • no need for preservatives in foods such as salad dressings and mayonnaise;
  • extended fry and shelf life;
  • a smoke point higher than soy, palm, canola and olive oils;
  • an impressive fatty-acid profile with less than nine percent saturates for AlgaWise™ High Stability Algae Oil (less than four percent for the Ultra Omega-9 Algae Oil); 87+ percent monosaturates (more than 90 percent in the Ultra Omega-9 oil) and just two percent polyunsaturates (less than four percent in the Ultra Omega-9 oil); and
  • a pleasantly neutral taste; and
  • a much lower carbon footprint than comparable oil products.

What can you do with them?

More importantly, they have numerous useful applications, including:

  • as oil for frying;
  • as a replacement for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil; in pasta sauces;
  • as spray oil for crackers and snack foods;
  • for use in preserving dried fruits (protects flavours and spices, and extends shelf life); and
  • in 50-50 blends with olive oil in pasta sauces and bottled olive oils, to improve stability and reduce cost.

And these oils are eco-friendlier than their competitors. Most edible oils, including soy, sunflower, olive and palm, are made from crops - and growing those crops requires large expanses of agricultural land, chemical inputs, ongoing watering and months or years to grow – negatively impacting the environment in the process.

Solazyme microalgae magnified.
Solazyme microalgae magnified.

By contrast, Solazyme’s oils are produced from microalgae species that produce oils naturally and are, as Global Marketing Director Sally Aaron noted in a May 2015 webinar, “the ancestors of all oil producing plants on the planet today”. (Indeed, fish get their beneficial oils from eating microalgae).

The algae Solazyme uses to make its high-grade oils is farmed in large fermentation tanks that could be located, potentially, anywhere – close to end consumers, for example, to cut ‘food miles’ – and is ready for harvest in days. This means algae oil can be ‘made to order’ and delivered to the customer in less than a week.

AlgaWise™ High-Stability Algae Oil is already being produced in commercial quantities. Samples of the Ultra Omega-9 Algae Oil are available, with commercial amounts expected by the end of 2015. Interest is already coming from food manufacturing and food service companies keen on bottling Solazyme’s oils for the retail market.

The company’s revenue increased from $39.8 million in 2013 to $60.4 million in 2014.


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