Algae! We used to curse it for making the pond dirty or taking over the patio. It’s now time to think again. Algae are increasingly used as biofuel. However, even more importantly, they are also being called the vegetable of the future. Food manufacturer Damhert, who was already a pioneer in the introduction of insect burgers, is now leading the way in an up-and-coming trend. Very soon vegetarians, vegans and all those dedicated to healthy eating will be able to top up their protein levels with delicious burgers based on what is maybe the world’s oldest living organism.
Small and prehistoric
It is helpful to start with a clear definition of the term ‘edible algae’. In cookery the term seaweed is in fact used for all edible algae, sea vegetables (such as sea lettuce), (phyto)plankton and (micro)algae. The latter also includes blue algae or blue seaweed. Strangely enough these are not seaweed or algae at all. They are cyanobacteria found in both freshwater and oceans and which, like plants, use photosynthesis to survive. Being extremely small and single-celled they are also called microalgae. There are around 40,000 varieties, of which only a few are edible. One of these cyanobacteria – which, incidentally, is one of the only sorts to be approved by the food safety agency– is what we use in our algae burgers. Spirulina-algae are among the oldest organisms in the world. They have been in existence for around 3.5 billion years – making them much older than dinosaurs – and it was thanks to them that greater organisms were able to develop.
A sprinkle of magic powder solves the problem
There’s no limit to what you can do with this little green plant. However, it suffered from the chicken and the egg dilemma, being in such limited supply. But a turning point has now been reached, thanks to new cultivation techniques and factory modifications, allowing components to be separated and purified. Incidentally, the algae used in our burgers are sourced in Europe. That’s important. This is because the United States produces lots of genetically modified algae and Asian algae can be very polluted. Rest assured this is not for us. We want to keep our natural product natural. The spirulina used in our burgers is in powder form. Indeed, when it’s fresh it’s rather slimy and actually quite inedible. Scientists claim that we have microalgae’s flatulence to thank for our entire existence! However, rest assured: the algae themselves are easily digestible.
Follow the fish’s example
There’s plenty of discussion around the superfoods hype. Each type of food has its own particular advantages, beneficial characteristics and values. However, there’s no doubt about the fact that algae are real nutrient bombs. In 1974 the United Nations already referred to them as “The best food for the future”. This is because they provide an enormous diversity of vitamins, co-vitamins, macrominerals, trace elements, enzymes, co-enzymes, and above all also essential amino acids. Everyone agrees that fish is healthy due to its essential omega3-fats. However, fish does not produce these fatty acids alone. Indeed, it is actually obtained by eating microalgae. In fact it’s the same story for nuts and seafood. So instead of just eating all the delicacies from the sea you might just as well eat some healthy seaweed. Just the job for vegetarians. All the more so because, despite originating in seawater, there’s no fishy taste or smell at all. Spirulina is all the rage in Hollywood. The powder is used in smoothies, shakes, juices, tablets and supplements. The hype is coming this way. But a Spirulina burger; that is really something quite new!
Amazing nutritional profile
Up until the 16th century spirulina was widely used by the Aztecs and other Central American people. For years NASA has also considered these algae to be an essential food supplement for space travellers. Since the sixties extensive scientific research has been focused on its nutritional benefits and, meanwhile, over 100,000 studies and articles have been published documenting spirulina’s many health benefits. Spirulina is an exceptionally rich source of nutrients, such as antioxidants, 11 vitamins (which are also absorbed more effectively than synthetic variants), 10 minerals in large quantities, including iron (12 times more than in beef liver, and 50 times more than in spinach), the most important fatty acid GLA (gamma-linoleic acid), and, if that is not enough, it also contains plenty of proteins. This means that this kind of algae is a real boost to a healthy immune system, a top energy provider and just what you need for healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels. In other words: even when you are in top form this is really worthwhile.
The number of vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians is growing by the minute. And certainly among the better educated. This innovation is particularly important to those already rejecting all animal-based products, or to those now wanting to go ‘all the way’, Failure to compensate the lack of dairy and meat products can lead to a deficiency in vitamin B12. This type of vitamin is however essential to keep the body’s red blood cells in top condition. Spirulina-algae, and therefore also the burgers it is made into, are enriched with this key nutrient. However, there is yet another reason why this is the most appropriate alternative to meat and fish. The algae consist of between 60 and 70 per cent protein. That, for example, is more than double the amount in soya and three times the amount in chicken. Spirulina provides 12 times more bio-accessible protein than steak. An easy choice then for anyone wanting to develop their muscles. So much better than a protein shake in the sports academy. Popeye anno 2016 would certainly not hesitate to swap his can of spinach for an algae burger, which consists of 20 per cent protein and actually has pretty much the identical colour and structure as this strong sailor’s usual nourishment. Anyway, it’s a good thing to get most of our protein from vegetable sources. Otherwise you soon start to produce an excess of uric acid, which can then cause all kinds of ailments and illnesses.
Minimum ecological footprint
These algae are incredibly interesting within a sustainable food process, because they can develop using photosynthesis, using simply sunlight to provide energy, and with saltwater as their habitat. Elements that we will undoubtedly be plentiful in the future. Experts estimate that the production capacity of this almost inexhaustible food is ten to twenty times more than agricultural crops. In principle the oceans could provide enough seaweed to feed the entire global population. In other words algae could resolve the world’s food shortage. Furthermore it is not affected by all the toxic elements polluting our natural environment. Neither insecticides nor artificial fertilisers are required for them to grow. Spirulina does not remove nutrients from the ground. This is why this cyanobacteria has such a limited ecological footprint.
Love your planet, but don’t eat it
Damhert is the first brand on the Belgian and Dutch market to be working with this type of meat substitute. It is not the first time however that Damhert have launched something so innovative onto the market. 2 years ago this food company also introduced meat substitutes made from insects under the name ‘Damhert Insecta’. The development work was entirely in-house. We have been working really hard on this for a long time now and we are particularly proud of the result.
In the Netherlands the algae burger is available in the supermarket chain ‘Jumbo’.
We decided to include the spirulina powder in crumb-coated burgers, which can be prepared in the oven, in a frying pan or in the deep fat fryer. Each pack contains two burgers, and they have a shelf life of 21 days.
Damhert has already been developing, producing and distributing functional, healthy, not to mention tasty food for over 30 years. For we are convinced of the fact that you are what you eat. And if we can contribute to a more sustainable planet for humans and all other living creatures then we will certainly do so.
These burgers represent an important ECO foodstep. This innovation matches our goal perfectly of providing a full range of healthy and sustainable alternatives to traditional animal-based food. ‘Love your planet’ is the message that we would like to convey with our Spirulina-burger. Those going (blue)-green, will notice that what’s good for you is often also good for our planet.