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Highly nutritional plankton, an ideal food ingredient: Japan

By Kacey Culliney, 16-Jan-2012

Related topics: Nutrition, Fortification, Functional foods and drinks

A microscopic plankton, known as ‘euglena’ is an ideal functional food ingredient due to its highly nutritional profile combined with lack of acute taste and smell, according to Japanese company.

The venture company Euglena Co. founded by the University of Tokyo and private businesses in 2005, is dedicated to the continued research and development of euglena as a food ingredient.

Mio Yasuma, from the management strategy department at Euglena Co. told FoodNavigator-Asia that euglena is fulfilling the demand for functional foods in Japan, one of the world's hotbeds of functional foods innovation.

Interest in the ingredient has been generated due to an increasing consumer focus on healthcare, Yasuma said.

Euglena is a single-celled microscopic algae with both animal and plant features as it accumulates nutrients via photosynthesis, yet moves like an animal by twisting itself.

It contains 59 nutrients, including a host of vitamins (vitamin C, D E, B1 and B2) a range of minerals (zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium) as well as nine types of amino acids, amongst others.

Mitsuru Izumo, president of the company, said: “Euglena can grow with just water and sunlight, and its production efficiency is more than ten times higher than that of tropical rain forests. From a food perspective, it is rich in nutrients, vitamins and amino acid and is a promising food source for modern people.”

Global potential

Yasuma added: “Euglena can be grown in more diverse areas compared to plants, so there is a possibility that it can be cultivated globally.”

He said that there are opportunities for the ingredient to be used in the processed foods sector as it comes in a powder, easily used in a variety of food applications like cookies, jellies, beverages and noddles as well as supplement forms like tablets and capsules.

“There is a demand for euglena in countries which are short in nutrients,” but also demands in developed countries, particularly those where obesity and unbalanced diets are social problems, he said.

“Global expansion including approval of distribution of euglena as a food ingredient is a possibility,” Yasuma added.

While some supplements are sold in other parts of Asia, he said that currently the food ingredient is mainly sold in Japan.

Euglena Co. works on the research and development of the plankton as an ingredient and oversees the application process as specialist screening is required. Independent food companies are then involved with the production.

Euglena needs to be listed as a food ingredient, Yasuma said, and with its addition, "we introduce products as functional foods."

However, he added, that it is not yet certified or licensed in Japan as a functional ingredient.