Best Algae and Seaweed for Food Ingredients

Buyers' Guide

Best Algae and Seaweed for Food Ingredients

Date published:
September 1, 2023

Algae and seaweed are emerging as popular foods in western food cultures, offering unique flavors, nutrition, and a host of health benefits, a role they have long held in eastern culinary traditions. As consumer demand for natural and healthier food options grow, algae and seaweed are becoming increasingly important for businesses to understand and incorporate into their products and supply chains.

This comprehensive B2B Buyers' Guide dives into five specific types of algae and seaweed and their roles in the food ingredients landscape. Designed for product development professionals and procurement teams, this guide not only provides insights into nutritional highlights, potential applications, and current market trends, but also offers sourcing tips for companies looking to procure transparent and trustworthy algae and seaweed for food ingredients. Our goal is for this buyers’ guide to help businesses confidently integrate algae and seaweed into their food offerings.

IMPORTANT: For clarity purposes, there are two general categories of algae - macro-algae and micro-algae. Macro-algae is commonly known as seaweed and predominantly grows in oceans and other marine environments. Micro-algae is a unicellular organism that typically grows in both freshwater and the ocean. We use the words algae and seaweed interchangeably throughout the guide.

Our Top Picks

Best All-Around Alternative Protein

Nori Seaweed

Best Seaweed for Flavor


Best Seaweed for Plant-Based Foods


Best Seaweed for Soups and Salads


Best Algae for Nutritional Supplementation




Best All-Around Alternative Protein

Spirulina stands out as the best all-around alternative protein source. Not only does it boast a high protein content—comprising about 60-70% of its dry weight—but also contains all essential amino acids making it a complete protein source. It is a nutrient-dense superfood that’s also rich in vitamins and minerals, making it a well-rounded, versatile ingredient.1 Spirulina is a micro-algae that is easy to cultivate and has a low environmental impact, making it a top choice among conscious consumers.2 It has been consumed as a food for centuries, dating back to the Aztecs and Mayans. In recent years, spirulina has become increasingly popular due to its flexibility to be included in a wide variety of food applications.

  • Already a well-known superfood among consumers.
  • Serves as a highly versatile ingredient.
  • Cultivation has a low environmental impact.
  • Must find a reputable source to ensure product safety.
  • Dried spirulina carries an earthy flavor, which may not appeal to everyone.
  • Can be expensive relative to other alternative proteins if used in small quantities.

Top food applications for spirulina

Spirulina is a highly versatile food ingredient that businesses can use across a variety of applications to improve the nutritional profile, health benefits, and look of their foods without affecting the overall flavor.

  • Smoothies and Smoothie Bowls: Blend spirulina into smoothies for a nutritional and colorful boost.
  • Energy Bars and Snacks: Fortify snack options and achieve a higher nutrient content by adding spirulina to protein bars and snacks.
  • Baked Goods: Incorporate spirulina into muffins, cookies, and bread for increased protein content.
  • Salad Dressings, Sauces, and Dips: Add spirulina to dressings, sauces, and dips  to enhance the nutritional profile.
  • Pasta and Rice Dishes: Mix spirulina into pasta dough or stir into cooked grains, offering a nutritionally rich alternative to traditional pasta and rice.
  • Pet foods: Add spirulina into commercial dog and cat foods to offer a complete protein profile.

Spirulina potential health benefits

  • Spirulina Benefit #1 - High protein content: Spirulina is about 60-70% protein by dry weight and contains all essential amino acids, making it a complete and rich protein source.1
  • Spirulina Benefit #2 - Nutrient dense: Spirulina is incredibly nutrient-rich. It provides a substantial amount of vitamins like B1, B2, and B3, along with essential minerals such as copper and iron.1
  • Spirulina Benefit #3 - Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties: Spirulina contains phycocyanin, an antioxidant that helps boost your immune system.3
  • Spirulina Benefit #4 - Muscle strength and endurance benefits: There's evidence suggesting that spirulina can improve muscle strength and endurance, beneficial for those involved in regular physical activities as it is a complete protein source.4

What products can spirulina replace?

Spirulina can serve as a replacement for many different common food ingredients and products that businesses use on a daily basis.

  • Protein Powder Replacement: Spirulina can be used as an alternative to soy, whey, or other protein powders.
  • Artificial Food Coloring Replacement: Spirulina can serve as a natural colorant, replacing artificial blue or green synthetic dyes in food products.
  • Egg Replacement: Spirulina can reduce or replace the number of eggs in select recipes, especially in baked goods or pancakes, due to its binding properties.5
  • Artificial Iron-Fortification Replacement: Spirulina can be used in foods as a natural alternative to artificially iron-fortified products due to its high iron content.6

What types of food businesses use spirulina?

Spirulina offers several types of food-related businesses an opportunity to increase the nutritional profile of their products and increase trust with their customers. It allows businesses an opportunity to drive additional revenue by adding a, “superfood” to their offerings.

  • Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG): CPG companies can add spirulina to health-focused snacks, cereals, or meal replacement shakes for added nutritional benefits.
  • Restaurants: Chefs can incorporate spirulina into sauces, dressings, or specialty dishes to enhance both the nutrient content and color of their dishes.
  • Bakeries: Spirulina can be used both as a natural food coloring and nutrient booster in bread, pastries, and cookies.
  • Juice and Smoothie Shops: Spirulina can be offered as a nutrient-dense add-in for smoothies, juices, and wellness shots.
  • Pet Food Companies: Spirulina can be used in commercial cat and dog pet foods to provide a complete protein profile to their offerings.
Nori Seaweed

Nori Seaweed


Best Seaweed for Flavor

Nori is a type of edible seaweed commonly known and used in Asian cuisines, particularly in Japan and Korea. It has a distinct umami flavor that is less "fishy" compared to other seaweeds and makes it more palatable to those who are new to seaweed or prefer a milder taste. The seaweed is dried and pressed into thin sheets making them easy to roll or crumble in a variety of dishes. Nori is found in a variety of Japanese dishes, including sushi, onigiri, and chirashi.

  • Broad consumer recognition.
  • Easy to use and convenient to incorporate into meals.
  • Mild, “umami” flavor complements a variety of ingredients.
  • Quality levels vary when sourcing.
  • More expensive than other types of seaweed.7
  • Can be high in sodium depending on the brand and preparation method.8

Top food applications for nori

Nori is a highly versatile food ingredient that enhances both the flavor and nutritional profile of a variety of dishes. Nori is very easy for businesses to integrate in a variety of products.

  • Sushi: Nori is integral to the wrapping of sushi rolls and forming rice balls.
  • Garnish: Nori can be crumbled atop dishes for a salty and umami boost.
  • Snacks: Nori can be made into chips or crisps for a unique taste and healthful twist.
  • Soups and Broths: Nori is a good addition to add a depth of flavor and a mineral-rich touch.
  • Fusion Cooking: Nori can be blended into various dishes from different cultures due to its increasing popularity.

Nori potential health benefits

  • Nori Benefit #1 - High in vitamin B12: Nori is one of the few plant-based sources of vitamin B12, making it a valuable addition to vegetarian and vegan diets. Vitamin B12 is essential for red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis.9
  • Nori Benefit #2 - High in iodine: Renowned for its iodine content, nori supports essential thyroid functions.10
  • Nori Benefit #3 - Omega-3 fatty acids: Contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), a vital omega-3 that supports heart and brain health and can aid in weight loss.11
  • Nori Benefit #4 - Dietary fiber: Rich in fiber, nori aids in digestion and promotes a healthy gut.12
  • Nori Benefit #5 - Protein source: While not as protein-rich as some other seaweeds and algae like Spirulina, Nori still provides a decent amount of protein, typically between 25-50% of dry weight.13

What products can nori replace?

Nori can act as a versatile substitute for various food ingredients traditionally used by food-related businesses to enhance the flavor and nutritional value of their products. It can create a unique texture and a rich umami flavor to a variety of dishes.

  • Salt Replacement: Given its naturally salty flavor, nori can reduce or replace the need for added salt in some dishes.
  • Artificial Flavor Replacement: Due to its umami-rich flavor profile, nori can be added to dishes to enhance depth of flavor, reducing the need for artificial enhancers or monosodium glutamate.
  • Breads, Wraps, or Tortilla Replacement: For low-carb and gluten-free product alternatives, nori sheets can be used as a wrap or tortilla.
  • Meat Replacement: Nori can be used to make veggie burgers, tofu scrambles, and wraps.

What types of food businesses use nori?

Nori finds its use across a variety of food business landscapes, including restaurants with asian-inspired menus, and health food stores offering nutritious products. It serves as a staple in asian food joints and is a popular choice in vegan markets for its rich flavor and nutrient profile.

  • Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG): Companies use nori to produce snacks, seasoning sprinkles, and other food items where nori is a primary or secondary ingredient.
  • Restaurants: Nori is used by places with asian-inspired menus, sushi joints, and Japanese eateries in a variety of dishes.
  • Health Food Stores: Nori sheets can be retailed as standalone items or as pivotal ingredients in health-focused products.
  • Seafood Processors: Nori can be integrated into seafood recipes and products, offering it as a gourmet and healthy garnish.



Best Seaweed for Plant-Based Foods

Kelp is one of the most abundant seaweeds in the world. It has been used as a food for centuries, but it is gaining popularity in western cultures as a healthy and sustainable food source. It’s unique texture, flavor, and nutritional profile make it a versatile ingredient that is being used as a meat substitute, base stock for soups, and an ingredient to substantially reduce sodium. These range of applications make it one of the best overall seaweeds to use for plant-based foods.

  • Sodium reducer for many applications.
  • High iodine content for thyroid health.14
  • Abundant potential supply.
  • High quality variability when sourcing.
  • Texture can be more challenging to work with.
  • Lower protein content (10-20% of dry weight).15

Top food applications for kelp

Kelp is a dynamic food ingredient that can be used for very different food applications.  This allows a wide range of businesses to expand the nutritional scope of their offerings. Rich in vitamins and minerals, kelp can be easily incorporated in a range of products, adding a subtle savory note while boosting the health profile of dishes.

  • Plant-based Foods: Fresh kelp can be used to make burger patties, salmon-kelp cakes, and plant-based seafoods.
  • Soups: Kelp’s rich, savory flavor serves as an excellent base for soups, broths, and stocks. It can also be used in powder form to significantly reduce sodium while maintaining flavor.
  • Sauces, Dressings, and Pickles: Kelp is a good ingredient to enhance the flavor of sauces and dressings as well as be pickled to add a tangy flavor.
  • Snacks and Seasonings: Kelp powder can be sprinkled onto snacks or be used as a seasoning.

Kelp potential health benefits

  • Kelp Benefit #1 - Lower sodium content: Kelp can potentially reduce the sodium content of soups, broths, and other foods given its salty flavor. It also contains a lower amount of sodium when compared to other seaweeds and algae.16
  • Kelp Benefit #2 - Essential for thyroid health: Kelp is a notable source of iodine, which plays a crucial role in supporting thyroid function. Note: Iodine levels must be monitored when used in food products as it can result in too high of an amount and potentially have a harmful effect.17
  • Kelp Benefit #3 - Digestive health support: Kelp is rich in soluble fiber, which aids in improving gut health. It’s natural fiber (alginate) inhibits the absorption of fat in the gut, potentially supporting weight management and promoting overall digestive health.17

What products does kelp replace?

Kelp can replace a range of different products, especially those requiring a salty flavor profile. Additionally, kelp can substitute for thickening agents in various culinary applications due to its high alginate content.

  • Meat and Seafood Replacement: Kelp can enrich the taste of plant-based meats, adding a genuine, "meaty" depth with its umami flavor. Its chewy and slightly crunchy texture makes it well-suited to mimic the consistency of seafood, enhancing the overall sensory experience of plant-based meat and seafood products.
  • Salt Replacement: Kelp has a natural salt content, which allows it to serve as a replacement for added salt that is used in processed foods, bouillon cubes, soups, stews, and sauces. Kelp can enhance the natural mineral content of these foods, reducing the need to add sodium.

What types of businesses use kelp?

A wide range of food businesses can benefit from incorporating kelp into their offerings. Its versatility makes it a popular choice for very different applications.

  • CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods): Brands offering kelp-based snacks, seasonings, soups, and plant-based meat and seafood products.
  • Restaurants: Kelp is commonly used in soup dishes like ramen and sushi, especially at establishments specializing in asian cuisine.
  • Speciality/Gourmet Stores: Kelp products such as dried kelp, kelp noodles, and seasoning are frequently found in specialty and gourmet stores.
  • Seafood Markets: Kelp can be readily available fresh, dried, or in various prepared forms, providing a nutritious option for consumers seeking to diversify their seafood choices.



Best Seaweed for Soups and Salads

Wakame has a long history of being used in Japanese and Korean cuisine for thousands of years. It is most well-known for being used inn soups and seaweed salads. Wakame's versatility, mild flavor, and ease-of-use make it a popular choice for a variety of culinary applications. Its most iconic use is undoubtedly in miso soup.

  • Already known among consumers.
  • Can be rehydrated quickly; good for fast-cooking.
  • Mild flavor; less intense than other seaweeds.
  • High quality variability when sourcing.
  • Higher sodium content than other seaweeds.18
  • More limited availability.

Top food applications for wakame

Wakame brings to the table a delightful texture and a mild, slightly sweet flavor, proving itself as a remarkable ingredient. Businesses can use wakame to not only enrich the nutrient density of foods, but also to introduce a novel texture and flavor experience in a variety of products, from salads to soups and more.

  • Soups and Stews: Wakame can be included to soups and stews where it adds a subtle, briny flavor.
  • Seaweed Salads: Wakame can be used as the base ingredient for a variety of salads, often combined with soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice.
  • Stir-fries: Wakame can be added in stir-fry dishes for flavor, texture, and a nutrient boost.

Wakame potential health benefits

  • Wakame Benefit #1 - Improves liver health: Wakame is one of the few seaweeds that possess a high amount of fucoxanthin, which has shown to improve liver health.19
  • Wakame Benefit #2 -Improves bone health: Wakame is a good source of essential minerals like calcium and magnesium, benefiting bone health, metabolism, and overall wellness.20
  • Wakame Benefit #3 - Beneficial fatty acids: Wakame contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid known for promoting heart and brain health.20

What products does wakame replace?

Wakame can be used to replace or supplement a variety of food ingredients and offers a different texture and a slightly sweet flavor.

  • Salt and Artificial Flavor Enhancer Replacement: Wakame's natural umami taste can reduce the need for added salt or other flavor enhancers in certain dishes.
  • Leafy Greens Replacement: Due to its texture when rehydrated, wakame can be used as a replacement or addition to salads that use leafy greens.
  • Artificial Gelling Agent Replacement: In some culinary applications, the mucilaginous quality of wakame can be used as a natural thickener or gelling agent.
  • Pasta Filling Replacement: Chopped wakame can be incorporated into fillings for ravioli, dumplings, or other pasta dishes, either replacing or complementing ingredients like spinach or ricotta.
  • Bread Crumb Replacement: Wakame, when finely chopped, can be added to or replace bread crumbs.

What types of food businesses use wakame?

Wakame is popular among food businesses that focus on Asian cuisine, including restaurants and meal kit services. It is also favored by health food stores looking to offer nutritious and flavorful alternatives to traditional greens.

  • CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods): Wakame can be used to make wakame-based snacks, seasonings, or seaweed salads.
  • Restaurants: Wakame is most commonly used in Asian-inspired eateries in dishes like miso soup, seaweed salad, and sushi.
  • Specialty/Gourmet Retail Stores: Wakame can be sold in dried form where customers can rehydrate and use in soups or to make seaweed salads.



Best Algae for Nutritional Supplementation

Chlorella is a type of micro-algae that is naturally rich in nutrients and has been used as a food and medicine for centuries. It is currently available in many forms, including tablets, capsules, powders, and flakes. Many businesses use both chlorella and spirulina as a food ingredient to boost a product’s nutritional profile, but spirulina is more widely available making it more accessible to the average consumer. While both chlorella and spirulina are full of protein, their nutritional profile similarities end there. Chlorella outperforms spirulina as a detoxifying agent and contains substantially more iron.21 When choosing between chlorella and spirulina, businesses will choose chlorella if they are focused more on nutritional supplementation in their products.

  • Nutrient powerhouse and complete protein.
  • Strong detox properties.22
  • Available in different formats.
  • Must find a reputable source to ensure product safety.
  • Stronger, more earthy flavor.
  • Some forms can be harder to digest.

Top food applications for chlorella

Chlorella is a nutritional powerhouse that businesses can use to significantly enhance the health profile of their products. Its subtle taste allows for a seamless incorporation into a plethora of food items, ranging from smoothies to baked goods, marking an uptick in both nutritional value and green hue, without overpowering the existing flavors.

  • Smoothies and Smoothie Bowls: Chlorella can be incorporated into smoothies and juices for a rich color and nutritional boost. It is the go-to algae to use in products aimed at detoxification.22
  • Energy Bars and Snacks: Chlorella can be added to energy bars and snacks that focus on nutrition and immune support.
  • Salad Dressings, Sauces, and Dips: Chlorella can be incorporated into dressings, sauces, and dips to add a vibrant green color along with a more earthy flavor profile.
  • Pasta and Baked Dishes: Chlorella can be added into pasta dough and baked goods for a healthful twist.
  • Pet Foods: Given its nutrient density and detoxifying properties, Chlorella can be used in specialty pet food formulations for cats and dogs.

Chlorella potential health benefits

  • Chlorella Benefit #1 - Detoxifying agent: Chlorella is renowned for its detoxifying properties, specifically its potential to bind and assist in the removal of heavy metals such as lead and mercury from the body.22
  • Chlorella Benefit #2 - Nutrient dense: Chlorella boasts a complete protein profile including 50-60% protein content, iron, vitamin C, and other antioxidants.23
  • Chlorella Benefit #3 - Immune system booster: Research indicates that chlorella can enhance the immune system, potentially by augmenting the activity of various immune cells.23
  • Chlorella Benefit #4 - Blood pressure management: Initial studies suggest that chlorella could be effective in managing high blood pressure.24

What products does chlorella replace?

Chlorella can replace a variety of food ingredients and products, offering a natural alternative to artificial additives.

  • Protein Powder Replacement: Chlorella can serve as an alternative protein source in vegan or plant-based formulations and can replace or complement other plant proteins like pea or soy.
  • Synthetic Food Coloring Replacement: Due to its rich chlorophyll content, chlorella can provide a natural green color to foods, replacing artificial green dyes.
  • Artificial Iron-Fortification Replacement: Chlorella can be used to replace items that are fortified by artificial ingredients.
  • Meat and Plant-based Burger Replacement: Given its protein content, chlorella can be used as one of the protein sources in veggie burgers, vegan patties, and other plant-based foods. It can complement other common ingredients like beans, lentils, or grains.

What types of food businesses use chlorella?

Chlorella is a favored ingredient in the health and wellness sector, especially among businesses creating dietary supplements, smoothies, and detox products. Its rich nutrient profile also makes it a popular choice for businesses looking to enhance the nutritional value of their baked goods and other food products.

  • CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods): Brands offering chlorella-infused products, such as snacks, supplements, and superfood blends.
  • Smoothie and Juice Bars: Chlorella can be incorporated as a superfood add-in for its rich green color and nutrient boost.
  • Restaurants: Chlorella can be added to baked goods, dressings, or other dishes looking to promote clean, healthy options.
  • Health Food Stores: Chlorella in powdered and tablet forms is sold at health food stores as a nutritional supplement and detoxifying agent.
  • Pet Food Companies: Chlorella can be used in commercial cat and dog pet food formulations to offer a complete protein profile.
Nutritional Highlights

Each type of algae and seaweed carries its own unique benefits. Below is the top nutritional highlight each type of algae carries relative to other species.25

  • Spirulina - protein powerhouse: Spirulina's high and complete protein content makes it an ideal ingredient for plant-based protein supplements and foods.
  • Nori - natural vitamin B12 source: Nori is one of the rare plant sources of vitamin B12. It can be a valuable addition to vegetarian and vegan dishes by helping to address potential B12 deficiencies.
  • Sugar Kelp - sodium reduction: Sugar Kelp has a strong, salty ocean flavor. When used in powdered form, it can be used as a salt replacement and reduce sodium content up to 50% in some foods.  
  • Wakame - immune system booster: Wakame is one of the few seaweeds that possess a high amount of fucoxanthin, which is a carotenoid high in antioxidants.
  • Chlorella - detoxifying agent: Chlorella's high chlorophyll content can aid in detoxification by removing heavy metals from the body, making it a standout ingredient for health drinks and detox supplements.

DISCLAIMER: The nutritional content of seaweed and algae can vary widely based on growing conditions, harvesting time, processing methods, and geographic location. When purchasing seaweed and algae, businesses should have the product tested and verified by a third-party.

Side-by-Side Comparison

Ingredient Why we picked it Highlights Flavor profile Best fit For
Spirulina Best All-Around Alternative Protein Well-known and versatile. Medium to strong; earthy flavor All food businesses.
Nori Seaweed Best Seaweed for Flavor Easy-to-use; high customer recognition. Mild umami flavor. Restaurants and consumer-packaged-goods companies (CPG).
Sugar Kelp Seaweed Best Seaweed for Plant-Based Foods Abundant supply; good for high volume use cases. Strong ocean flavors. Consumer-packaged-goods companies (CPG).
Wakame Seaweed Best Seaweed for Soups and Seaweed Salads Easy-to-use; can be rehydrated quickly. Mild, slightly sweet flavor. Restaurants seeking fast-cooking options.
Chlorella Best Algae for Nutritional Supplementation Serves as a nutritional supplement and detox agent. Medium to strong; earthy flavor. All food businesses serious about health.
Product Examples and Use Cases

Company Product name Type of company Ingredient used Function of ingredient
AKUA Kelp Burger Patties CPG Sugar Kelp Flavor, nutrition, and texture of plant-based burger patties.
Annie Chun's Roasted Seseame Seaweed Snacks CPG Nori Sheets Flavor and structure: to create crispy seaweed layers.
Applaws All-natural Pet Food Manufacturer Mix of seaweeds General nutrient boost for pets.
Blue Evolution Seaweed Pasta CPG Kelp Added nutrients and unique flavor.
Emerald Cove Seaweed Salad CPG Wakame Hero ingredient for texture and flavor.
gimMe Snacks Seaweed Chips CPG Nori, Wakame Crunchy texture and sea flavor.
Masa Salads and Main Dishes Restaurant Nori, Wakame Flavor and texture in Japanese cuisine.
Nobu Sushi, Soups, Salads Restaurant Nori, Kelp, Others Flavor and texture in Japanese cuisine.
Ocean's Halo Seaweed Wraps CPG Nori Wraps for sushi and other rollable foods.
Rootless Daily Nutritional Seaweed Bite D2C Kelp, Nori, Others Daily seaweed bite focused on thyroid health.
SeaSnax Seaweed Strips CPG Nori Crunchy snack; alternative to potato chips.
SimpliiGood Vegan Nuggets Producer Spirulina Plant-based protein source and nutrient boost.
Supreme Source Premium Pet Food Producer Mix of seaweeds Nutrient boost for pets.
We Are The New Farmers Fresh/Frozen Spirulina Cubes D2C/Food Service Spirulina Superfood add-in to foods and beverages.
Wrawp Spirulina Wraps CPG Spirulina Natural colorant and added nutrients.
Top Trends

Below are a list of food trends businesses should pay attention to when thinking about incorporating algae and seaweed into their products and overall product development strategies. Many of these are consumer-focused trends, which have major implications for the B2B food world.

Consumers want transparency when it comes to what is in their products

As consumers become more conscious about the origins of their food, there's a growing demand for supply chain transparency for the products they consume. They want to know what is in the products they buy, where they come from, and who is involved in making the products. Algae and seaweed play well into this trend as the supply chains are just forming allowing for businesses to demand transparency when purchasing.

Consumers want products that improve both human and planetary health, but will not compromise on quality or taste

Consumers are increasingly looking for products and companies that are dedicated to improving human and planetary health. Algae and seaweed are perfect candidates for this trend due to the nutritional benefits and low environmental impact of production. While consumers are getting serious about this point, they are not willing to compromise on the overall quality or taste of the product. Businesses will only see success using seaweed and algae as an ingredient if the product tastes extremely good and stands out from the competition.  

Birth of the Values-based Consumer  

With endless options on the market for nearly everything, consumers are looking to buy products from companies that match their personal values. This trend of, “values-based consumerism” means people are choosing to buy things that reflect what they believe in and care about. One of those deep values that all consumers care about deeply is supporting local economies as they know the feeling when something affects them positively in their daily lives. Algae and seaweed are a perfect fit for this trend as businesses that purchase these ingredients has a direct effect on the farmers, their families, and local communities where it is grown.

Consumers want to eat less meat, they just need more tasty plant-based alternatives

Numerous polls and research has shown that consumers in the United States and Europe are eating anywhere between 20% - 30% less meat than just a few years ago. 26 27 This flexitarianism trend is here to stay and has boosted interest in plant-based protein sources. The problem to date has been the first generation of plant-based alternatives do not compete on taste with meat and have been exposed to contain a variety of processed ingredients and stabilizers. Seaweed and algae are well-suited to enhance plant-based offerings at they bring unique flavors and attractive nutritional profiles to this segment.

Growing interest in using natural food colorants vs synthetic food dyes

With the push among consumers for natural and clean-label ingredients, algae is an attractive ingredient to use as a natural food colorant. Spirulina has gained attention as a natural blue-green colorant to replace synthetic food dyes after the FDA's approval of its use as a food color in candy and gum28. The most common way algae is currently being used as a natural food dye is to give foods a blue or green color. Other forms of algae can provide a variety of colors and hues.

Food becoming medicine

Although functional and superfoods have become common in certain geographies with more health-conscious populations, this trend is now starting to spread into a larger segment of the population. Due to the explosion of independent media and specialists educating the public on health and wellness, people are increasingly looking at food as medicine they feed their bodies on a daily basis. Seaweed and algae are already branded as superfoods due to their rich nutrient profiles and proven functional benefits. These include supporting immune function, promoting gut health, and potentially aiding in weight management. Businesses can leverage this consumer awareness and use algae and seaweed in their products to bring them into the functional, “food as medicine” category.  

Cleaning up the snack aisle

There is a trend among consumer packaged companies (“CPG”) to offer cleaner, more nutrient-dense options in the snacking category. Seaweed and algae are great options to incorporate into snacking foods due to both the health benefits and unique umami flavor. Although nori sheets have long been enjoyed as snacks in many Asian countries for along period of time, new products are popping up in the snack aisle that include flavored seaweed crisps, seaweed popcorn, and more.  


Q: Is algae the same as seaweed?

There are two general categories of algae - macro-algae and micro-algae. Macro-algae is commonly known as seaweed and predominantly grows in the ocean. Micro-algae is a unicellular organism and grows in both freshwater and the ocean.

Both seaweed and micro-algae can be grown wild, through outdoor cultivation, or by controlled indoor agricultural methods using bioreactors.

There are over 72,000 different species of algae, but less than 20 are commonly used as food ingredients.29

Q: What product formats are seaweed and algae available in?

They come in a variety of formats. Fresh, frozen, dried, powdered, or flakes.There are also a variety of extracts in both liquid and powdered form that are available. Your target application and taste profile will be the driving force on what format to purchase.

Q: How does algae affect the taste of food and how can it be managed?

Some algae can introduce a unique "oceanic" or umami aftertaste. This can be balanced by using sweeteners, acids, or other flavor agents. Each type of algae carries its own flavor profile. Certain micro-algae like spirulina have no flavor when used in fresh or frozen form.

Q: How can I maximize the health benefits of seaweed and algae in food products without compromising taste?

Start with subtle incorporations, blending the flavors of seaweed with familiar tastes. Over time, as consumers become accustomed, you can gradually increase the proportion, ensuring both flavor and nutrition are balanced.

Q: Can seaweed and algae be used as natural colorants in products?

Absolutely! Spirulina, for instance, can provide a vivid blue-green color, while certain red seaweeds might offer a reddish hue. They offer a natural alternative to synthetic dyes and can also impart added nutritional benefits.

Q: What's the shelf life of these seaweed and algae-based ingredients?

Dried forms generally have a longer shelf life, often up to two years if stored in cool, dark conditions. Fresh or rehydrated forms can have a shelf life of a week to a month, depending on the specific ingredient and storage conditions.

Q: Is seasonality a concern when sourcing these ingredients?

It depends. For seaweed that is grown in the ocean, there are specific growing and harvesting seasons that vary by type of seaweed and region of the world. Availability can vary with the seasons. Many suppliers might have storage facilities that allow them to offer products year-round. There are many types of algae that are grown in indoor controlled settings and are harvested year-round.

Q: What questions should I ask suppliers to ensure a consistent and reliable supply chain for seaweed and algae as ingredients?

Inquire about their harvesting or cultivation cycles, production capacities, backup sourcing strategies, and how they handle demand surges. You should also require heavy metal testing and a certificate of analysis to be completed by a 3rd party. This will give you an idea of their reliability during market fluctuations.

Q: Can suppliers typically provide samples for R&D and initial product testing?

Most established suppliers will be able to provide small samples for testing purposes. It’s crucial to conduct preliminary tests with these samples to ensure the ingredient aligns with the product's development goals before placing large orders.

Q: Where can I procure reliable algae and seaweed for my business?

There is alack of standards and guidelines when it comes to procuring and using algae as a food ingredient. As a result of this and the variability in quality that exists, we recommend either: 1) Work directly with a seaweed/algae farmer or processor with deep knowledge of their products; or 2) Work with a strategic sourcing specialist with experience in algae. They can help save you a tremendous amount of time, ensure product quality, and help you navigate the waters in this emerging industry.

Q: What other types of algae can be used as food ingredients?

Some other types of algae that are currently being used as food ingredients include dulse, bladderwrack, and sea lettuce.

Extracts from specific algae are commonly used to produce agar and carrageenan, which serve as gelling agents or thickeners in food products.

Algae extracts are also used to make alginates, which are used in the food industry as stabilizers.

B2B Procurement Tips

Be clear on the end application

There are no set industry standards or guidelines that have been established. As each type of seaweed and algae carry different properties and tastes, it is important for businesses to have a good idea of the end application and properties they are seeking. This will determine the best type of algae and format for your use case.

Take time to really understand your supply chain

It is critical for businesses to take time to understand the supply chain when making a purchasing decision. Seaweed and algae can be cultivated offshore or on-land, as well as through indoor controlled environments. It is important to understand the cultivation method as it will help you determine what factors to take into account when purchasing. Seaweed and algae have high variability when it comes to nutritional content and potential contaminants. It is important that when sourcing seaweed and algae you can confirm nutritional content and that the supplier has the product tested for certain metals and contaminants by a verifiable 3rd party.

Build quality control into your contract

When issuing a purchase order or a longer-term supply contract, make sure to outline specific conditions and requirements around nutrition and product safety. This will ensure the supplier is meeting your quality standards before accepting the product.

Focus on recurring orders vs spot purchases

Due to market fluctuations and seasonality of growing seasons for many types of algae and seaweeds, it is much better to set up longer-term supply contracts well ahead of time with suppliers. It will allow you to establish a consistent price and build a more robust supply chain. It will also allow the supplier to plan ahead and invest in their own growth so they can bring costs down.

Diversify the supplier base

It is recommended to work with 3-4 suppliers when your business is just starting to purchase algae and seaweed so you can find the best fit. There are farmers and processors that have different goals on what customers they are set up to serve and growth they want to achieve. You want to find the options that are the best fit for your broader strategic goals. By diversifying the supplier base upfront, it allows businesses to create resiliency in their supply chains.

Use a third-party escrow service

When purchasing seaweed and algae, it is recommended that buyers use a 3rd party escrow service, especially when sourcing internationally. This is often something many folks overlook, but due to the variability of quality, using a third-party escrow service allows the buyer to protect money and ensure the product meets their standards.

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