The marine ingredient start-up has coined its red microalgae extract Ounje, meaning ‘food’ in the Yoruba language spoken in West Africa.
The ‘clean label’ formulation (appearing as ‘red algae extract’ on ingredients lists) mimics the red juices of real meat, without the need for artificial colour additives.
The product was discovered when Yemoja combined the new marine ingredient with other derivatives from the same Porphyridium strain of algae.
“While working on a new formulation for cosmetics applications, we serendipitously discovered that this specific composition yields a substance that resembled blood in appearance and texture,” recalled Amikam Bar-Gil, co-founder and CTO of Yemoja.
“Encouraged by the first test results, we decided to push the boundaries further and take it to the next level, trying it out in test products. The results were an immediate proof of concept.”
Yemoja also uses its ‘super intensive’ growing platform to standardise microalgae bio compounds for the nutraceutical and cosmetics B2B sectors. The platform system allows the manipulation of light, temperature, and pH to yield high concentrations of desired bioactive compounds with minimal ecologic footprint and without contaminants. The closed cultivation system allows for multiple species to be grown simultaneously.
Plant-based heme substitute
The start-up claims its deep red algae-based product has the potential to serve as a 100% plant-sourced heme substitute for the cultured meat and plant-based meat analogue sectors.
“When it comes to creating plant-based meats and hybrids, there is a strong demand for a convincing blood substitute to award the growing pool of ethically conscious diners the full experience of biting into a juicy beef burger,” noted the firm.
However, current offerings are largely made from beetroot juice or other colour additives, which Yemoja said are suitable in the products’ raw stage – but ‘still cannot’ change colour the way meat does when cooked. “This often necessitates adding various sugars that caramelize when heated to attain the desired effect.”
The patented microalgal heme substitute also congeals like real meat juices. “We found the polysaccharides within this particular algae species express a viscosity similar to gelatin when cooked. Its natural fibre also awards an appealing crunchiness and emits an appetising meaty aroma,” said Bar-Gil.
In being suitable to both cultured meat and plant-based products, Ounje is tasteless, the CTO told this publication. “One of our potential customers, whom we teamed up with for testing, said that he found it actually strengthened the tastes and seasonings of the final product.”
Focus on cell-based
While simultaneously targeting the plant-based meat market, Yemoji sees strong potential for Ounji within the cultivated meat sector.
As Bar-Gil explained, ‘even cell-based meat looks pale’. “Because [cultivated meat makers] will probably not use real blood in their products (otherwise it would not be considered vegan), they will need our solution.”
The company produces its algae heme substitute via a cold process in its GMP-certified facility without using any organic solvents. “We believe our algae can imbue cultured meat cells with a nutrient-rich media to feed on,” said Bar-Gil.
“We are currently assessing its potential to act as a suitable biomaterial scaffold on which the cells can grow. This structure will allow it to mimic the behaviour of meat, especially when it hits the skillet.” The ingredient can make up 10% of the final product, he added.
Within either plant-based or cell-based matrices, the algae add a nutrient boost. Microalgae contains 20-30% protein and boasts a complete amino acid profile. Algae are also a source of essential fatty acids, polyphenols, as well as minerals and vitamins.
Yemoja is currently piloting its microalgae ingredient with one plant-based start-up and another cultured meat producer, and reports ‘promising’ results.
However, as the heme alternative is considered a novel food, it is not yet approved for commercialisation. “Although it is completely natural and made from microalgae, this specific strain is not yet approved for human consumption,” Bar-Gil explained. “Regulation procedures are already underway, and we expect to finalise regulatory approval by the end of the development.”
Yemoja is planning for a global roll-out, revealing the product will be available within 18 months or ‘sooner’. “This largely depends on how soon our clients will want to roll out their algae-infused alternative meat products and how soon we gain GRAS approval.”