San Diego’s Triton Algae Innovations says the Food and Drug Administration has accepted its edible algae as safe to eat. The FDA’s designation clears the way for the startup to sell its algae as a food ingredient.
The FDA says it has “no questions” that Triton’s algae falls under Generally Recognized As Safe, or GRAS status, the company said last week.
Triton plans to introduce its algae into the consumer market this year through business partnerships, said Xun Wang, president and CEO.
Prominent San Diego chef Brian Malarkey, who has included Triton’s algae in special meals, says diners love the taste.
Privately held Triton cultivates strains of the freshwater algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. One of the company’s selling points is that the algae is high in protein and essential nutrients, compared to traditional sources such as soybeans.
C. reinhardtii is a workhorse algae in the biotechnology industry. It’s been widely studied for a variety of purposes, such as making biofuels. Researchers such as Steve Mayfield of UC San Diego, Triton’s founder and scientific adviser, have focused on increasing the algae’s productivity.
Triton grows the algae in three colors, green, yellow and red, using a closed fermentation system. Both green and yellow are nutritionally similar. The yellow algae lacks chlorophyll. The color difference expands its potential uses. The algae are not genetically modified.
Nutrition aside, how does Triton’s algae taste? Judging from the reactions of diners, great, said Malarkey. He presented an algae-based meal last May at Farmer & The Seahorse restaurant in La Jolla. He also served algae pasta at Herb and Wood in downtown San Diego.
The diners “love it (algae pasta) because it's got a bit of a funk, like anchovies, like a secret umami, and it's brilliant in color,” Malarkey said. “When I make a pasta it's just neon green and it tastes great. And everybody's like, if you didn't tell me that was algae, I wouldn't think that was algae.”
Algae is also versatile, Malarkey said.
‘We've made everything from algae pasta to algae bread, algae vinegarette, algae marinades and algae butter,” he said. In addition, he praised algae’s potential to reduce the environmental impact of food production.
Malarkey doesn’t have a formal role in the company at present, said David Schroeder Triton’s director of corporate & regulatory affairs.
“Brian was an enthusiastic early adopter of our ingredient, in every sense of the word, and has been a staunch advocate or ‘brand ambassador’ on our behalf.” Schroeder said.
The process of growing the algae by fermentation causes less stress on the environment than traditional agriculture, Schroeder said.
“There’s no crop protection chemicals or pesticides or anything like that,” Schroeder said.
The red strain also makes heme, a substance that gives meat its taste. Heme is used by Impossible Burger to make its imitation meat taste like real meat.
Triton plans to offer its heme as an alternative to the heme used in Impossible Burger, said Xun Wang, president and CEO. That heme comes from genetically modified yeast, in contrast to Triton’s non-GMO products, he said.
The FDA previously has given Impossible Burger’s heme the same “no questions” safety clearance that Triton’s algae has just received. However, some people avoid GMO-containing foods anyway.
Triton has developed its algae strains to make certain proteins that are especially high-value, Wang said. In addition to heme, Triton’s algae also provides nutrients such as essential amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids that have been linked to heart health, vitamin A/beta-carotene, and iron.
In addition, Triton uses the algae to make proteins found in colostrum, a mother’s first milk. Among other benefits, colostrum helps an infant’s immune system develop. These proteins can make infant formula more nutritious, the company says. These colostrum proteins will be on a separate regulatory path to market, Schroeder said.
The company’s website is https://www.tritonai.com/.