The popularity of plant-based diets has increased the demand for alternative protein sources like pea and soy. Now, NPR reports that microalgae, which are already being developed for use in cooking, baking, and smoothies, may soon be making waves as the next popular protein option. Microalgae are single-celled organisms that are 50 to 60% protein and, depending on the type, can also contain fat; fiber; vitamins A, B, C, and E; and minerals. A few microalgae species, like spirulina and chlorella, are even touted as being natural superfoods.
In addition to being nutrient- and protein-packed, producing microalgae also shows promise compared with other protein sources: While plants can take months to grow, and animals can take years, microalgae can grow in a matter of days with minimal soil and no pesticides. However, microalgae production is expensive and requires large amounts of water, therefore it’s too soon to say how viable microalgae production will be in the long term. Growing microalgae in large batches and using recirculating water systems may make it a more sustainable source of protein, but more research is needed. So, while you await the day when you can eat a delicious pizza made with a microalgae crust, check out spirulina and chlorella—these types of algae are already available in nutritional supplements and in some bottled smoothies.