Spotlight – Is Euglena the Latest Superfood?

Spotlight – Is Euglena the Latest Superfood?

Green superfoods are nothing new in the food industry. In fact, most people have heard of or tried at least some of these products, such as kale, wheatgrass, or spirulina. Superfoods like these have long been praised for qualities such as antioxidants, high levels of vitamins and minerals, the ability to help repair cells, and the way they can boost our immune systems. Health food advocates all over the world often encourage others to add these superfoods to their diet, and many of them have become health fads at the same time, producing offshoots of all kinds that contain these added ingredients. However, there’s a new superfood on the market that is a bit different than the ones to which we are accustomed.

Image by Picturepest | Flickr

Euglena gracilis, often known simply as ”Euglena,” is an ancient microscopic species of algae cultivated on the shores of Okinawa, Japan. Euglena, which is believed to have evolved more than 500 million years ago, was first discovered by a Dutchman named Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in the 1660s. Since this discovery, Euglena has been the subject of scientific research, eventually culminating in projects funded by NASA and a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. So, what makes Euglena so interesting for the food industry? Here’s more about this new, ancient superfood.

What Is It?

A type of algae that is in the same family as kelp and seaweed, Euglena has been an important and nutritionally rich food source since the prehistoric era. Since it is a plant-animal hybrid, the algae has nutritional qualities found in both animals and plants, such as omega oils and vitamin B-1, which are typically found in meat and fish, as well as fiber and folic acid that are found typically in plants. It is grown using photosynthesis, like plants, but has the ability to change its cell shape, like animals. This unique organism also contains nine different minerals, 14 vitamins, 11 unsaturated fats, 18 amino acids, and other important nutrients, which make it a true nutritional powerhouse.

How Is It Used?

Euglena has already been used in a number of industries, from the food to the beauty industry. Adding it to beauty products can help to improve skin’s smoothness, radiance, and elasticity, and it can trigger the formation of collagen. Euglena also can help to keep skin looking younger and fresher by increasing its production of dermal fibroblasts, which may protect the skin from damage caused by ultraviolet light. In the food industry, Euglena can be used as a supplement to enhance the immune system, remove fats and cholesterol, and decrease levels of uric acid in the blood. It is especially effective as a supplement for those living in areas where people experience malnutrition, making it a favorite of activists. It’s even useful to treat water, remove carbon dioxide, and to potentially use as a biofuel and alternative to fossil fuels.

Image by pelican | Flickr

Noblegen And Euglena

A Canadian startup called Noblegen has taken Euglena to center stage with its new product and ingredient brand, Eunite. Noblegen is excited about the potential of this ancient microorganism and is focused on turning Euglena into a protein-rich ingredient that can be used as a nutrient-rich, plant-based animal product substitute. Unlike many other plant-based meat alternatives, Noblegen has focused on a process known as “facilitated expression” that does not involve any elements of genetic engineering to produce its animal product substitutes. Due to customers’ hesitation about genetically engineered food products, Noblegen’s new Euglena products could become big sale items in an industry that is continually searching for the next big plant-based replacement for meat, dairy products, and eggs.

The company’s first foray into this arena will be with a product intended as an egg substitute. Noblegen’s powdered egg substitute, which is made from spray-dried Euglena mixed with pea protein and other ingredients, launched in early 2020. The company believes that this product could eventually become a real and sustainable alternative to real eggs in a lot of processed foods.

Benefits of Using Euglena

In comparison to other forms of plant-based protein, Euglena provides many benefits. Texturally, it is not as chalky as a lot of other alternatives. And while it does have its own taste, masking the flavor is not a major concern. It can also be produced quickly and is usually ready for use in a matter of weeks. Once the Euglena are harvested, they are spray-dried into Euglena flour, without any milling required. Noblegen is pursuing FDA approval for this Euglena flour. It’s more likely that you will see the Eunite logo on other products incorporating the ingredients it creates, rather than as a product line for sale in its own right, since Noblegen envisions the Eunite brand as more of a supplier to food manufacturers.

However, the new powdered egg substitute is being tested by customers, and many have reported being pleasantly surprised. The company’s main goal now is to develop staple food products and alternatives to commonly seen plant-based products on the market today.

Mark CrumpackerMark Crumpacker is the CMO and President of Zume Culinary at Zume Inc.,  the Silicon Valley company that has revolutionized the pizza delivery business through its fleet of mobile kitchens outfitted with smart ovens. Mark has more than two decades of experience in the realm of consumer behavior and its effect on brands’ marketing strategies. Mark studied economics at the University of Colorado and earned a bachelor of fine arts in advertising and graphic design from the ArtCenter College of Design. You can follow Mark on Twitter at @markcrumpacker and read his full bio here