NEIKER-Tecnalia obtains microalgae flours for use as healthy food ingredients with high nutritional value

They can be used to prepare pasta, bakery products, yoghurts and meat preparations

The development of foods with improved nutritional characteristics represents one of the most interesting areas of research and innovation in the food industry and responds to the challenge of improving food habits and the quality of food as sources of health and quality of life in the aging of the population.

Microalgae are considered a natural resource with high exploitation potential in the agri-food sector where they have growing interest as healthy ingredients. They are an excellent source of vegetable protein, in addition to providing essential fatty acids, vitamins, antioxidant compounds and other molecules with healthy properties.

Its cultivation represents, therefore, an important biological resource emerging for its potential applications in different fields, including food. Microalgae are a new form of agriculture with a high degree of sustainability and that may be a pillar of food in the not too distant future.

NEIKER-Tecnalia, public entity of the Economic Development and Infrastructure Department of the Basque Government, has obtained nutritious flours with high added value from the cultivation of four species of microalgae. In addition, during the project to study the viability of algae as food ingredients, NEIKER-Tecnalia has verified that the chemical composition of microalgae is not an intrinsic factor of the species, but can be modified by the environmental conditions used during its cultivation.

Thus, NEIKER-Tecnalia has managed to increase the amount of proteins and carotenoids in microalgae, compounds with high antioxidant power and growing demand in the healthy food sector. It has also increased its contribution of Omega 3 by 50%.

Depending on their composition, these flours have been added in yoghurts, pastas, breads and meat preparations, which have then been tested in various tasting panels to test their acceptance by consumers. The incorporation of microalgae flours as ingredients in these foods makes them “Protein source”, “Omega 3 source”, “Copper source” or foods with “High Iron content”.

Prototypes of foods made with flour rich in Omega 3

During the investigation it has been proven that foods enriched with microalgae are healthier than their conventional variants. Among the different foods developed, the prototypes made with flour rich in Omega 3 were especially interesting due to the current importance of this type of fatty acids for health.

This research, led by NEIKER-TECNALIA, has been carried out within the framework of the FICONUT project, a multidisciplinary initiative focused on exploring innovation opportunities around the use of microalgae as food ingredients, financed by ELKARTEK (Basque Government Program of support for collaborative research in strategic areas). Together with NEIKER-Tecnalia, LEARTIKER SCOOP, Department of Analytical Chemistry from the Faculty of Pharmacy of the University of the Basque Country UPV / EHU-, TECNALIA Research and Innovation Foundation and the Basque Culinary Center Foundation participated in the research.

The development of products and solutions that contribute to healthy eating and the improvement of the quality of life and that at the same time promote a competitive industry are some of the priorities of the Strategic Plan of Gastronomy and Food (PEGA) of the Basque Government. These products represent an opportunity for the agri-food sector and especially the food industry that currently finds in this type of healthy food an important business niche at the same time as a continuous challenge related to the development of innovative products that respond to the demand of health on the part of the consumers and contribute competitiveness in this market area in full development.