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Algae’s excellent opportunity for bakers

June 22, 2014

Food analyst Pinar Hosafci writes in that while seaweed is an important food source, especially in Asia, its use in baked goods is unheard of. With the recent discovery of brown algae as a replacement for salt, this situation could change.

Algal ingredients can be particularly valuable in bread, which, according to Euromonitor International, accounted for 29% of global sodium chloride use in 2012. In addition, seaweed ingredients also fit well with the growing consumer demand for natural products, and help to lower blood pressure. A recent study also linked brown algae to a reduction in abdominal fat in humans. As governments struggle to bring down soaring obesity rates and manufacturers battle to rejuvenate tumbling bread sales, brown algae could offer the solution they both long for. But where will this work?

Globally, almost 90% of all salt consumed as an ingredient stems from packaged food. Some 35% of sodium chloride use derives from baked goods alone, of which bread accounts for the largest proportion. Given the sheer volume used in bread, any attempt to replace it with a viable alternative would make commercial sense. Brown algae are a viable alternative not only because they provide a sodium substitute but also because they fulfill a nutritional function.

Algae powder has the potential to play a role in fighting obesity as well as helping to reduce cholesterol and manage blood sugar levels. However, extracting algae remains very costly and complex. According to the FAO, the estimated cost of algal production alone ranges from US$4-300 per kg of dry biomass, which is quite high given the fact that table salt retails for less than US$1 per kg. Therefore, its use will be primarily limited to high-income countries

Daily sodium intake via bread vs. obesity and overweight population in selected countries Source: Euromonitor International

Daily sodium intake via bread vs. obesity and overweight population in selected countries Source: Euromonitor International

*Note: Countries were selected based on their 2013 per capita incomes with a cut-off level of US$15,000.)

Many Western European countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, along with the United Arab Emirates, appear to be those with very high rates of obese and overweight people and a high daily intake of sodium through bread. With a 27% share of global consumption, Western Europe ranks first in terms of global use of the ingredient in bread. Therefore, Western European countries offer the best opportunities for ingredient and packaged food manufacturers.

Sustainability is a valid concern for food producers. As part of this, many suppliers are already looking at algae as a future solution. However, manufacturers may think that algae might not be worth the high production costs because of the (perceived) inferior taste and appearance.

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