The latest superfood to appear on the food scene, algae is being praised not just for its intense flavour, but also its health benefits.
Algae comes in many forms; from microscopic algae such as spirulina and chlorella, to 50 metres-long giant kelp. The former can be found increasingly frequently on supermarket shelves, as protein- and mineral-rich additives in ice cream, vegan egg substitutes, and protein powders.
Nutritionist Cassandra Barns describes algae and seaweed as "true superfoods", as they are "rich in essential minerals which, depending on the type of algae, can include iodine, calcium, magnesium, iron and antioxidant manganese."
According to barns, the "rock star" of the algae world is spirulina: "In its dried form, it's almost two-thirds protein, making it a fantastic protein source for vegans in particular."
James Collier, co-founder of meal replacement powder Huel, agrees. He says, "marine algae has a number of health benefits, most notably it's a rich source of the semi-essntial fatty acids EPA and DHA. These omega-3 fatty acids are more commonly consumed in the form of oily fish, and are involved in reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke."
However, algae is popular for other reasons too. "The brilliance behind it is the flavour profiles", chef Rob Howell of Root in Bristol says. "Because we're a vegetable-based restaurant, we have to think differently. Using seaweed and algae allows us to get more obscure, intense, flavour profiles. That hit of umami."