HomeInnovationAlgae and microalgae for food use in Europe, the ABC

Algae and microalgae for food use in Europe, the ABC

A recent scientific publication (Mendes et al., 2022) offers a detailed overview of biodiversity and applications related to algae and microalgae, in Europe, with focus on their use in the food sector. (1)

Over 150 species of algae are regularly consumed in the Old Continent but only 20% of them have received an official green light, pursuant to Regulation (EU) no. 2015/2283 on the subject of Novel foods 

The growth potential of the European algae and microalgae market appears significant, thanks to their nutritional and health benefits. And progress on the research and innovation fronts should favor its development.

1) Algae and microalgae, history of consumption

Historical analysis and bibliographic allowed the large group of researchers (Mendes et al., 2022) to identify a history of algae and microalgae consumption rooted over the centuries and millennia. (1)

1.1) Algae

Food consumption of algae, or macroalgae, is generally associated with Far-East countries (eg China, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan). The archaeological finds collected have also demonstrated the uses for food and medicinal purposes of algae, in some countries of South America (eg Chile), as early as 14.000 years ago.

In Europe, algae have contributed to the subsistence diet of many coastal populations, in Portugal as in Norway. In Italy (Sicily) there is historical consumption of seaweed – ulva lactuca (or sea lettuce) e Chondracanthus teedei (known as 'Mauru'), dressed with lemon and salt, like salad – by fishermen and holidaymakers.

1.2) Microalgae

spirulina, the best known species among microalgae (even if it is a cyanobacterium) appears to have been cultivated and consumed by the Aztecs as early as the XNUMXth century, in Africa since the XNUMXth century AD. And the consumption of microalgae dates back to Asia as well Nostoch.

Europeans on the other hand, they have only learned the advantages of consuming microalgae in the last few decades, thanks to the import of food and food supplements based on spirulina e Chlorella from Asia and North America.

2) Algae and microalgae in Europe

The production of algae in Europe it is mainly aimed at the food sector. There are still few species of microalgae cultivated, also due to regulatory barriers to market access. Production costs are still high and not competitive with Asian ones. Although research in the EU is now also oriented towards the use of solar energy, precisely to reduce the costs of (energy-intensive) drying processes.

I ricercators however, they expect positive growth in the algae and microalgae market in Europe in the coming years, starting with Spain. The numbers of food references are increasing with thehalo seaweed, As well as food supplements with microalgae. And innovation is on the horizon in the macro-category of vegan products, come on vegetable creams ai alternative products to dairy products, with the added value of proteins and bioactive substances with a high health value.

3) Novel foods?

One of the main obstacles to the development of production and market of algae and microalgae in the European Union is the European regulation of Novel foods (EU reg. 2015/2283). To which was added, lastly, a questionable one judgment area of  European Court of Justice (ECJ).

3.1) novel food, the requirements

The operators who intend to place algae and microalgae on the EU market, including importers, must ensure compliance with the European regulations on Novel foods. That is to say that the products must be able to be qualified as:

- traditional foods, as they have a safe and consolidated consumer experience in the EU prior to 15.5.97. Their use can continue without the need for authorization (without neglecting possible uncertainties, related for example to the form of use of an extract),

novel food authorized. In compliance with the requirements and conditions of use, to be verified in a precise and timely manner. With attention to the authorizations provided exclusively (eg. Euglena graciles). (3)

Should some kind of seaweed is in the process of being authorized or not authorized, it is instead necessary to wait for the completion of theprocess assessment and approval at EU level, or submit a specific application for authorization. (4)

3.1) QPS, Qualified Presumption of Safety

Lo status of QPS (Qualified Presumption of Safety) can facilitate EFSA regarding the safety assessment of microalgae, provided that the absence of live and viable cells in the new food is guaranteed. (5) The so far attributed microalgae of this status I'm:

- Tetraselmis chuii,

- Euglena graciles,

- haematococcus pluvialis (Haematococcus lacustris),

Schizochytrium limacinum (Aurantiochytrium limacinum). (6)


PROALGAPortuguese Association of Seafood Producers, has published a complete list of algae and microalgae consumed in Europe. (2) A valuable tool also for evaluating it status of the different species, supplementing the Novel Food Catalog managed by the European Commission and the Union Novel Food List (UNFL) attached to reg. EU 2017/2470.

The PROALGA List provides a wealth of information:

- group of algae. Green, red, brown for macroalgae and microalgae in strict sense, cyanobacteria for microalgae,
- scientific name of the alga,
- common name. In several languages, where available,
– Country of main consumption,
status and methods of consumption. Ex. novel food, traditional food, food additive, food supplement (in the latter case it also complements the BELFRIT list),
– bibliographical references, before and after 1997. (7)

The cultivation systems of microalgae (open or closed) and macroalgae (spontaneous or aquaculture) are also reported, with notes on the relative advantages and disadvantages.

5) European research projects

The European Commission it has financed over 100 research and innovation projects, almost entirely dedicated to microalgae, for a total amount that exceeds 220 million euros. With applications in various sectors, in addition to food (eg. organic feed and biostimulants, drugs, cosmetics, renewable energy).

The synthesis of the projects funded under the Horizon 2020 program (including ProFuture, to which our team of Wiise Srl benefit participates) shows a preponderant commitment of research institutions and companies based in Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Norway and the Netherlands.

6) Provisional conclusions

Algae and microalgae – although still not widespread in Europe, apart from some coastal communities and the macrobiotic culture – they have a centuries-old and millennial history of consumption in various areas of the planet. Strategies must now be adopted to reduce their production costs and encourage the inclusion of these ingredients with high nutritional quality in a wide variety of foods.

Some projects research projects co-financed by the European Commission in the Horizon programs (eg ProFuture, SeaFoodTomorrow) aim to offer results useful for optimizing the availability of these sources of proteins and valuable nutrients and micronutrients, as well as sustainable and functional. (8)

7) Phycogastronomy, ficogastronomy

Phycogastronomy – the portmanteau between the word seaweed, in ancient Greek 'phýkos' (φύκος), and gastronomy – is the neologism devised to promote research into the uses of seaweed and microalgae in the kitchen. These foods, once the basis of the subsistence of coastal populations and of medical knowledge, are now re-evaluated also in the sensory dimension.

Taste the Ocean is the EU initiative that has seen great Head of international fame compete in the preparation of dishes good gourmet food 'phycogastronomic'. (9)

# SDG2, Zero Hunger. # SDG3, Ensure Health and Well-being. # SDG12, Sustainable Consumption and Production.

Dario Dongo and Andrea Adelmo Della Penna

Cover image from Mendes et al. (2022). See note 1.

Footnotes to the story

(1) Mendes et al. (2022). Algae as Food in Europe: An Overview of Species Diversity and Their Application. Foods 11: 1871, https://doi.org/10.3390/foods11131871

(2) Mendes et al. (2022). Algae as Food in Europe: An Overview of Species Diversity and Their Application. Foods 11: 1871, Supplementary Material, https://www.mdpi.com/2304-8158/11/13/1871/s1?version=1656554923

(3) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. Microalgae for food use and regulation of Novel Foods, the state of the art in the EU. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade) 29.1.22

(4) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. Notification of traditional foods from third countries such as Novel Foods in the EU. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade) 4.3.22

(5) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. Microalgae, novel food and qualified presumption of safety of microorganisms. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade) 4.5.22

(6) Although many of them are among the protists, in the same way as cyanobacteria (eg. spirulina) are considered as microalgae (other examples are diatoms or seaweed Euglena)

(7) The discipline of authorization of Novel foods (EU regulation 2015/2283) applies to all foods without demonstrated experience of safe consumption in the EU prior to 15.5.97 (date of entry into force of the first Novel Food Regulation, reg. EC 258/1997)

(8) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Including algae in the diet, a promising scenario for health and the planet. #SEAFOODTOMORROW. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade) 18.1.22

(9) Ole G. Mouritsen, OG Mouritsen, Prannie Rhatigan, P. Rhatigan, & José Lucas Pérez-Lloréns, J. Lucas Pérez-Lloréns. (2019). The rise of seaweed gastronomy: phycogastronomy. Marine botany, 62, 195-209. doi: 10.1515 / bot-2018-0041

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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Graduated in Food Technologies and Biotechnologies, qualified food technologist, he follows the research and development area. With particular regard to European research projects (in Horizon 2020, PRIMA) where the FARE division of WIISE Srl, a benefit company, participates.

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