Edible Innovations: These Spirulina Chocolates Are Helping Reduce Malnutrition

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Edible Innovations: These Spirulina Chocolates Are Helping Reduce Malnutrition

From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Future Food Institute — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.

Today we meet a European female food maker: Stefania Abbona. Originally from Italy, she now lives in Amsterdam, dividing her time between her young daughter and The Algae Factory. Let’s learn more about her!

Stefania, tell us more about The Algae Factory. What are you making?

The Algae Factory produces chocolate with spirulina, a cyanobacteria with a high content of protein, vitamins, Omega 3 and 6, and essential amino acids. Spirulina has been nominated by FAO “as a powerful tool to fight malnutrition” due to its complete nutritional profile. For these reasons, when I was at Wageningen University, an important Dutch University in the food and agro business sector, I started prototyping a social brand that would produce healthy algae based snacks. I worked with Pierluigi Santoro (now, the co-founder of The Algae Factory). We focused on algae because it is seen as an innovative ingredient in Europe, and consumed on a daily basis in countries like Japan and Korea.

So, right now we produce and sell chocolate bars with spirulina flakes inside them. They can be eaten as an alternative to animal proteins and soy based products.

After making the bars, we developed the #Bite4bite program and started working closely with Antenna Technologies Foundation, a Swiss NGO that supports the development of algae farming in Africa in order to reduce malnutrition.

Our main goal is to put a healthy and delicious snack into the market that will help malnourished people.

Wow, that sounds exciting! So, why did you decide to start getting your hands dirty in this field?

Well, the world’s population is increasing and there will be around 9 billion people by 2050. This means that 60% more food needs to be produced in order to answer the increasing demand. We also need to consider that we have limited resources and will need to decrease environmental damages. On top of this, there is a need for alternatives to meat proteins.

Algae is the solution to all of these points as they have a high content of protein, are rich in nutritional content, and their cultivation has several environmental advantages in comparison to traditional crops.

You have a great driving mission and a strong solution. What would you like to share with our maker community?

Hands on! Experiment, make mock ups, conduct trials, create sensory tests, and hand out surveys as much as you can! I spent months just working on details and making people taste the bars. It is an endless, exciting, learning process!

The only important point to remember is to have a clear idea of the final destination. The rest is just an amazing discovery. Ask yourself: What is the mark that you want to leave?

Spirulina in Food

The two most common forms of commercially available spirulina are powder and tablets, but you can also find them as flakes. They can be found in supermarkets, drugstores, and natural shops.

You can stir a small spoonful of spirulina powder into a glass of water or juice and drink it straight, or you can add some to a smoothie.

Some people find spirulina’s taste to be slightly savoury, with a sea vegetable flavour that can be a little off-putting. However, its intense earthiness can help offset a sweet smoothie or juice. If you go for a smoothie, balance out the flavour by combining the powder with sweet fruits like bananas and mango. If you prefer juice, try a naturally sweet orange or pineapple juice.

If you want to eat it instead, you can add powder to your raw chocolate brownies or truffle-style energy balls. If you go for flakes, you can add it to your home-made chocolate bars (like Stefania!) or fruit salads.

It is just up to you and your creativity!

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Chiara is fascinated by food as a means to impact bodies, minds, and environment. She has studied international business in three different countries, and is an alumni of the Food Innovation Program and US Director at the Future Food Institute.

Based in California, she is also a Research Scholar at Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, working on building the first comprehensive Internet of Food to enable food care through food systems semantics. She is a selected member of Barilla Center Food Nutrition Foundation, a Research Affiliate at Institute For The Future, Board Member at Maker Faire and selected member of the Global Shapers, a young global network of innovators promoted by the World Economic Forum.

She is passionate about social entrepreneurship and impact investing, and aims to leave her mark on society.

View more articles by Chiara Cecchini