Kappaphycus alvarezii is being used to develop nutritious snack foods in India. Photo courtesy www.einrichtungsbeispiele.de

Kappaphycus alvarezii is being used to develop nutritious snack foods in India. Photo courtesy www.einrichtungsbeispiele.de

Dr. Vaibhav Mantri and Dr. C R K Reddy write in fnbnews.com that India, being among the most poverty-stricken regions in the world, is limited in the availability of nutrient-rich food for the large population in the lower economic strata.

In bringing affordable nutrition to these people, the authors say, it would be better to avoid the dependency on non-vegetarian edible sources for fulfilling the need for proteins, vitamins, amino acids, fatty acids and micronutrients. However, production of vegetable crops needs sufficient agricultural land, and adequate water for irrigation, with substantial expenditure towards fertilizers and pesticides, which are quickly dwindling due to population upsurge.

Scientists and nutritionists are increasingly considering marine algae, or seaweeds, as wonder plants that could be incorporated into the human diet to improve the nutrition of India’s large vegetarian community. Apart from micro-elements, vitamins and fibers, they are rich sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) – mainly long chain omega-3 fatty acids.

According to a report published on utilization of marine resources worldwide for human consumption, 65% of 221 marine algae have been exploited for edible purposes. And they are increasingly being utilized as food items apart from gelling agents, garnishing agents, condiments, soups, green tea and spice.

Novel products, such as low sodium salt of botanical origin, have been developed by CSIR-Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute, in Bhavnagar, India. This salt is prepared using the red alga Kappaphycus alvarezii – which is commercially being cultivated widely in India’s tropical waters – and the common halophyte Salicornia brachiata, which is abundantly available.

The marine algal tissue selectively accumulates higher amounts of potassium salt. The salt contains 30% potassium chloride and 65% sodium chloride. The potassium helps in the slackening of muscles, thus it is medically prescribed for hypertension patients. This salt is also naturally fortified with microelements, especially magnesium and iron. The free flowing salt can be obtained without any chemical processing.

The second novel product developed from Kappaphycus alvarezii is a refined juice for potential health drink applications. The juice contains iodine, magnesium, calcium, sodium, zinc, phosphorus and iron, and some of the compounds help brain function and boost immunity.

The marine algal biomass can also be used in India’s snack food industry. The research conducted by CSIR-Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, and CSIR-Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute has shown that the incorporation of the common edible green alga Enteromorpha in snack food such as pakora can increase iron and calcium content about five-fold.

The calorific values of most of the marine algae are low, which makes them ideal candidates for developing anti-obesity food products. Other compounds such as soluble fibers, antioxidants, amino acids, and vitamin B12 can improve the dietary content of snack food.

The food industry in India is worth around US$155 billion, and is expected to reach about US$344 billion by the year 2025, with annual increase of about 4.1%. The share of snack foods alone is US$3 billion with a growth rate of around 15-20% per annum. Close to 1,000 types of snack foods are available. The market is driven by creating innovative snack foods, and thus there are plenty of opportunities for creating marine algal-based snack food industries in India.

The authors are scientists from Marine Algal Research Station, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.