I was recently at a Chef’s Feed event, when I started chatting with Keith Belling. The conversation soon turned to algae. I will admit it, up until this point, I associated algae with swamp-like ponds. It certainly wasn’t something I thought about cooking with! But the more I heard about algae oil, the more I became intrigued. Where had it been all my life?
So how exactly does algae become oil? This was the first question I wanted answered. In order for algae to eventually be turned into oil, fermentation is used. Inside the fermentation tanks, the algae consumes renewable plant sugars to make oil in just a few days. Once harvested, algae is expeller pressed like coconut and seed oils. It then gets refined and bottled. Any algae leftover during this process is used for renewable energy. The oil that results is one of the best oils for your heart—it contains the highest level of monounsaturated fats (the good fats) along with the lowest percentage of saturated fats. Finally, this small single-celled plant is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
As a Greek girl who loves her olive oil, I had to see how the two different oils compared from both a health benefits and flavor angle. I also wanted to compare it to some of the other popular oils, like canola, vegetable, and coconut oil. When coconut oil came on the scene a few years ago, we already knew how it was going to taste. If you’ve ever tasted an olive or a coconut in your life, you have an idea of what the oils will taste like. But who’s eating algae? I had assumed it would have an earthy flavor with notes of umami. Instead it had a bright, light almost lemony taste. This might not be the flavor you’d expect from oil made of algae, but we all agreed it was delicious.
The oil also boasts an unusually high smoke point (485°F). All of this makes the oil surprisingly suitable for every type of cooking: sautéing, frying, baking, making sauces and dressings. So I set about the kitchen, making everything I could think of: popcorn, fried chicken, sautéed greens, even carrot cake! What’s making algae oil such a superstar isn’t just its versatility in the kitchen, but its health benefits. Algae oil contains unprecedented levels of monounsaturated fats. One tablespoon has the equivalent of eating an entire avocado. The average person typically only gets 50% of the monounsaturated fats that they need in their daily diet. So unless you’re on the avocado and nut diet, trust me, you aren’t getting as much monounsaturated fats in your diet as you might think. Algae oil also has zero trans fats, and levels of saturated fats that are even lower than olive oil (olive oil has about 2 grams of saturated fat per serving, and algae oil only has 0.5 grams of saturated fat). It’s sustainable. It’s healthy. 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.
If you haven’t tried cooking with the latest oil to hit the culinary scene, here are a few recipes I like to use when I’m cooking with algae oil. The measurements when using algae oil are no different than any other kind of oil. So you can easily swap it with the oil in any of your favorite recipes.
1. Breakfast Sandwich
The best way to rise and shine, try this delicious and healthy open faced sandwich with algae oil instead of olive oil. Get our Healthy Breakfast Sandwich recipe.
2. Crab Cakes
Perfect for brunch, lunch or even dinner, try frying up these lovely crab cakes in algae oil instead of vegetable oil, and let your guests be amazed by your secret ingredient. Get our Crab Cakes recipe.
Get creative in the kitchen! Try making these tasty shrimp tacos with algae oil, for an extra good for you kick. Get our Greek Style Shrimp Tacos recipe.
4. Side dish
Indian spiced potatoes taste even better when you make them with algae oil. They’re the perfect side dish to enjoy with easy lemon-caper salmon. Get the recipe here.
5. Easy lemon-caper salmon
For a triple dose of your good fats, swap the olive oil in this salmon dish, and the butter in the sauce, for bright and delicious algae oil. Get our Easy Lemon Caper Salmon recipe.
6. Teriyaki veggie and tofu stir fry
Get sizzling with algae oil in this delicious tofu and veggie stir fry. Get our Teriyaki Veggie and Tofu Stir Fry recipe.
7. Carrot cake
Forget about flavorless vegetable oil. Try making delicious carrot cake with better for you, and better tasting, algae oil. If you don’t tell the kids, we won’t. Get our Easy Carrot Cake recipe.
Header image: Salmon with Lemon Capers from Chowhound
Marisa Churchill is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy, as well as a certified nutritionist. She has worked in many notable San Francisco restaurants. She is the host of My Sweet & Skinny Life, and author of the Sweet & Skinny cookbooks. She was a competitor on season 2 of Top Chef. Her work has also been featured on the Food Network, The Talk on CBS, Oprah.com, Food & Wine, and more!