Avocado, olive, grapeseed, palm, soybean, canola, vegetable… many kitchen cupboards contain numerous bottles of multiple types of cooking oil. Now there’s another contender for your cupboard space-- algae oil.
Looking at the Fats
Before we narrow in on cooking with algae oil, let’s give a cursory look at cooking oils in general. There are three types of fats found in oils: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. It’s important to keep these in mind when choosing a cooking oil, since they can have an impact on when and how you should use certain oils. Two key considerations are health and heat.
- Also found in red meat and whole-milk dairy products
- Some research has linked saturated fat consumption to greater risk for heart disease, since the fats can cause greater levels of LDL cholesterol. There have been mixed results, but it has been suggested that replacing some saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat in one’s diet can be beneficial in avoiding heart disease.
- There’s been a lot of hype in recent years about the “Mediterranean diet,” which contains plentiful amounts of monounsaturated fat from the consumption of olive oil. Many seeking heart-healthy options have taken to this diet trend.
- These fats are essential to the normal functioning of the body, including the construction of cell membranes. Omega-3 is one of the two main and perhaps the most commonly known type of polyunsaturated fats (fatty acids). Omega-3's are incredibly important for proper brain function, among other things. Omega-6 and Omega-9 are also vital. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid. You might see some oils advertised as high-oleic, this simply indicates they are suitable for using with high heat.
Heat (Which Also Comes Down to Health)
- Do not oxidize easily and therefore tolerant of a greater range of heat
- Oils with high saturated fat content: palm, soy, coconut
- Typically more stable for cooking than polyunsaturated fats
- Oils with high monounsaturated fat content: canola, olive, peanut, avocado, algae
- Generally the poorest choice for cooking, since they are not very oxidation resistant
- Oils with high polyunsaturated fat content: sunflower, safflower, corn
One way to determine whether you’re using an oil at a higher heat than it can tolerate is to watch for smoke. If an oil begins smoking in the pan, the fats have become so hot they’re breaking down. At this point (the smoke point) the oil can be dangerous to consume; some research has shown the damaged fats have the potential to be carcinogens. Extra virgin olive oil is a good example of a cooking oil with a very low smoke point. This type of oil is often better for drizzling on salads or heating foods at lower heats (less than 320 degrees F).
While flavor has not proven to be directly impacted by the type of fats present in an oil, it’s certainly a key factor in the decision to use one cooking oil over another. Unless the flavor of the oil is a key part of a recipe, you generally don’t want to taste the oil you used to cook your food. Your grilled chicken with rosemary and capers won’t taste quite the same if you sauté your onions and mushrooms in sesame oil before tossing them on top. Coconut oil might be a better choice in that instance. However if you’re making stir fry, you’ll probably appreciate the added flavor the sesame oil will bring.
Algae: From Fish Food to Biofuel to Hand Lotion to Cooking Oil
Research into the many uses of algae continues to garner increasing interest and investment from actors in multiple fields and industries. Earlier this month we posted a piece about Algal Scientific, an innovative company researching and producing algae for a number of markets with the help of some of our mixers (http://blog.mixerdirect.com/how-algal-scientific-is-changing-the-world-with-algae). With our ears to the ground on new developments in algae research and production, we stumbled across and became intrigued by the work of Solazyme.
Exploring the possibilities of harvesting algae oil for food has been spearheaded by Solazyme, now known as TerraVia. The company is proud in having realized an innovative vision for delivering a product with “taste-wise flavors, health-wise nutrition, and earth-wise sustainability.” They were previously also involved in producing algae-derived biofuel, but have recently (March 2016) realigned their focus solely on producing algae ingredients and oils for the food and personal care products industries.
When considering our three factors-- health, heat, and flavor-- algae oil seems to be a pretty solid choice all around. TerraVia’s oil line AlgaWise currently boasts two products, the High Stability and Ultra Omega-9 algae oils, which we use here to illustrate.
Ultra Omega-9 Algae Oil
- Low in saturated fats (less than 4%), which makes it a safe choice for any consumers who are worried about existing cholesterol research.
- High in monounsaturated fats (more than 90%), which makes it a safe choice for cooking at pretty high heats.
- Low in polyunsaturated fats (less than 4%), but does prioritize omega-9 fatty acid content.
- Earned an FDA GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) rating.
High Stability Algae Oil
- High oleic acid content
- High in monounsaturated fats, which makes it a good choice for high-heat cooking.
- Those who tried samples of the High Stability oil indicated there was a “pleasant or no aftertaste.” The neutral flavor is the cherry on top of the ease of use and healthfulness of the product.
The Future of Algae Oil in Cooking
The economics are looking pretty good. TerraVia is attracting significant interest from investors in the food industry, including CEO of Popchips Jonathan Wolfson. It also recently disclosed a $200 million dollar deal with Unilever to supply oil for products such as lotion.
The environmental outlook is also generally positive. Algae oil is promoted as an efficient choice because you aren’t using large amounts of land to grow one harvest worth, like you might with canola or oil palm. It’s produced by feeding sugar cane to microalgae, which it converts to oil. The whole process takes place in a flask and then a fermentation tank, so the only agricultural land being used is for the growth of the sugarcane. Product Line Director of AlgaVia Eelco Blum notes that at the end of the day, algae oil leaves a smaller footprint on the environment than other leading oils.
Whether your concern lies in reducing environmental harm, maximizing the health of your cooking, or simply experimenting with the latest in cooking trends and technologies, we recommend making some space in your cabinets for this innovative product.