Algae could be a valuable replacement to salt in bread but price and negative perception issues must be overcome, according to Pinar Hosafci, Euromonitor International food analyst.
Figures show that bread accounted for 29% of global sodium chloride use in 2012. Brown algae is a viable alternative not only because it provides a sodium substitute but also because it fulfils a nutritional function and taps into demand for natural products, Hosafci said.
A recent study linked brown algae to a reduction in abdominal fat in humans.
However, extracting algae remains very costly and complex. The estimated cost of algal production ranges from $4-300 per kg of dry biomass, compared to table salt, which retails for less than $1 per kg, FAO figures show.
Hosafci told BakeryandSnacks.com: “Currently price is a problem or will be a problem because there is no large scale manufacturing of algae in place.”
“Initial investment will be quite expensive. It is a question of how much industry is willing to invest and how many players are willing to take part in it.”
Perception and colour
Some regions such as Asia are quite used to having algae, in sushi for example or algae snacks, so there is no negative perception there compared to southern Europe, according to Hosafci.
She added: “It is just a matter of marketing it properly."
“Most seaweed as an ingredient has very little taste in general because it is used in very small quantities. The issue here is more the pigmentation and colouring.”
Salt reduction is typically associated with a reduction in flavour. However, recent studies indicate that brown algae’s replacement of salt in pizza dough had no particular impact on taste.
The main issue is discolouration, as it could turn white bread and baguettes a shade of brown. Its application in wholegrain and multi-seed variants though, as well as pizza, could work as the dark colour will be barely noticed.
Hosafci concluded: “Brown algae’s best opportunities lie in wholegrain bread in developed countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, which have a high consumption of sodium chloride and a high number of overweight and obese people.”
The global market for salt reduction ingredients, like amino acids, yeast extracts and mineral salts is set to reach $1bn by 2018, growing at an average rate of 11% per year.
Algae is a company which collects and processes brown algae found on the North Atlantic coast to make extracts and phytocomplexes.
Last month, Algea spokeswoman, Miriam Pasciuti, said that the trend for algae in food and cosmetics was taking off and the ingredient was becoming more familiar globally.