There’s a lot to consider when you're choosing a cooking oil: smoke point, flavor, color, nutritional value, whether it will break down into particles that might give you cancer … it can be enough to make your head spin, or at least leave you reaching for the same oil you’ve used again and again.
Now one company, Thrive, wants you to consider replacing your old stand-by oil with something new and different, and healthier for people and the environment: cooking oil made from algae.
Algae oil is very light in color, and nearly flavorless. Photo by Thrive
Former Top Chef competitor Chef Marisa Churchill believes algae oil has the potential to become the next big thing. “Algae oil might not have the fame of goji berries and acai just yet, but this is a superfood that’s clearly headed for stardom.”
What is Algae Oil?
You might be thinking, “Algae? That green stuff from the ocean? Doesn’t it taste like the sea? Isn’t it slimy?” Actually, no. According to Thrive, which makes the only algae oil currently on the market, there are thousands of different types of algae, but one in particular is best for cooking: an algae that is already a source of oil and good fats. This algae was discovered on the sap of a chestnut tree in Germany, and is actually a naturally white substance. When turned into oil, it’s rather clear.
Writer Rowan Jacobsen recently detailed how algae oil is made and the history of Thrive's parent company, Solazyme (now called TerraVia), on Tasting Table. “Solazyme has tweaked the DNA of its algae (yes, genetic engineering) to make it more like yeast" he writes, which feeds on sugars and is brewed in a tank, like beer. The genetically modified part of the algae gets left behind in the pressing process, so the finished oil isn't technically GM.
Why Try Algae Oil?
Better for the environment. According to Thrive, algae oil is made from plants that yield seven times as much oil as traditional oilseed, like canola, soybeans, and sunflowers, meaning it’s more environmentally friendly by a long haul.
Flavor and smoke point. The flavor is another big selling point for algae oil, as it remains taste-free even when you crank it up to its smoke point. That smoke point -- a staggering 485 degrees -- means the oil stays stable at high temperatures. “My affinity for [algae oil] is pretty simple,” Jacobsen tells Dish. “It has a higher smoking point and a better nutritional profile than canola and its other competitors, it uses much less land and resources to make, and it has absolutely zero taste, whereas I find that canola has a nasty hot-plastic smell when it gets really hot."
Low in saturated fat. According to Thrive, algae oil has a unique fat profile, with 75 percent less saturated fat than olive oil, the lowest percentage of saturated fat of any cooking oil currently on the market.
Buying Algae Oil
Currently, Thrive is only available at a few stores in California, including Gelson’s in Southern California, where it launched in October 2015, and at Draeger's Market in San Francisco. It's also available for $11.99 for 16.9 ounces on the Thrive site, and coming soon to Amazon and Haggen Food Grocery Stores in the Portland and Seattle area.
Cooking with Algae Oil
Algae oil's neutral flavor means you can use it in your favorite recipes for everything from chicken to salad dressings, and in all kinds of baking. Here's a recipe to try from Thrive.
Pan Seared Chicken Breast with Lemon and Thyme
2 tablespoons Thrive Algae Oil for sauteing, plus 2 tablespoons oil for the sauce
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 lemon, zested (preferably Meyer)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (preferably Meyer)
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
Heat a non-stick saute pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of Thrive Algae Oil to the pan and wait until it is hot. Add the chicken and cook until golden on each side, about 4 minutes per side (8 minutes total). Remove the chicken from the pan and add the remaining 2 tablespoons Thrive Algae Oil, lemon zest, juice, and thyme. Cook for 30 seconds, whisking or picking up any small bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour the sauce over the chicken breasts and serve.