More foods going green at IRTA – adding microalgae to vegetable creams, crackers & grissini

Earlier this year, we showcased bread with a marine twist, that was created at the Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA) using Spirulina to enrich the bread. This led to higher antioxidant and protein content – and despite the unusual color consumers accepted the new bread very well. Now, ProFuture researchers developed other promising products with microalgae. Read here how they refine the recipes!

High-protein vegetable creams

Vegetables creams are traditional, flavourful, and nutritious foods that are becoming more and more popular. One of the reasons: Consumers have a growing preference in healthy food products. Clean-label and natural trends are urging manufacturers to use natural ingredients, avoiding all type of additives (e.g., hydrocolloids, emulsifiers, preservatives, colorants, and thickeners). Dr. Fatma Boukid, Dr. Josep Comaposada, Dr. Albert Ribas Agustí and Dr. Massimo Castellari from IRTA worked on the development of high-protein vegetable creams. They incorporated different types of microalgae at two levels of intensity (1.5% and 3%) to a standard vegetable cream. Some of the new formulations could be labelled as having “high-protein content” following the present EU legislation. remormulation

Photos of vegetable creams reformulated with different microalgae at different levels of additions. STD: standard, SP: Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis), CV: Chlorella vulgaris; TC: Tetraselmis chui; NO: Nannochloropsis oceanica.

We asked Dr Fatma Boukid a few questions about their research:

Which challenges did your team face when developing the new types of vegetable creams?

The main objective of developing the new creams was designing a product that can be claimed “high protein” according to regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. To reach this objective, the challenge was adding microalgae to improve the nutritional properties without hindering the technological quality. In this first work, we focused on the impact on the color and the texture of the vegetable creams. Results were really promising since we found that adding chlorella did not cause relevant changes in the color and texture. We’re currently considering other microalgae strains and are planning to perform the sensory analysis on the best formulations.

Read more in the recently published paper: “Development of High-Protein Vegetable Creams by Using Single-Cell Ingredients from Some Microalgae Species”.


At the same time, your colleague Ingrid Aguiló-Aguayo, researcher at IRTA’s Fruitcentre in Lleida, developed new microalgae snacks: muffins, grissini, and crackers. What are the learnings from creating these new snacks?

The European snacks market is so vast. In the frame of ProFuture, Ingrid focused on making healthier and more sustainable snacks, while keeping in mind the taste and the price. The reformulation did not only targeted increasing protein content but also phenolic compounds, vitamins and minerals. The preliminary results of muffins, grissini, and crackers showed that incorporating Spirulina, C. vulgaris or T. chui in the conventional formulations increased antioxidant activity and protein content. No relevant differences in texture were observed, but the color was greenish, which can be considered a plus since microalgae can be considered a natural colorant. Purchase intention of the products as well as the acceptability index suggested that the fortified products would have a good acceptance.


Which steps are still needed until we can find the products in the supermarket?

We’re at the food development stage right now, so we are still working at small level to optimize the formulations. We get great support from our partners, with a long experience in product development and flavor improvement. When we’re ready, the companies will upscale the products in their facilities and we will proceed with consumers’ studies to see how they evaluate our products. Hopefully, companies can launch the products in the market in the near future.

You recently published a paper on vegan alternatives to cheese and yogurt – how could the findings help to create products with microalgae?

The work was based on a market search where all launches of yogurt and processed cheese labeled vegan were analysed. We compared their nutritional facts on the label to the conventional products. This study enables to understand the pros and cons of marketed products and subsequently how to make them better from a nutritional point view. We identified some limitations such as low protein content in the vegan products. This opens room for reformulating these products using microalgae as a rich source of proteins among other health beneficial compounds. In ProFuture, we are also reformulated snacks, sport beverages, soups, pasta and vegan sausages and we keep thinking to enlarge our spectrum due to the high value of microalgae as a food ingredient.

Read more in the recently published paper: “Vegan Alternatives to Processed Cheese and Yogurt Launched in the European Market during 2020: A Nutritional Challenge?”

What is your personal experience in the ProFuture project so far?

ProFuture is a great team of scientists, companies and experts operating in a lot of fields, which is an amazing experience at both levels, professional and personal. In the food development section, I enjoyed working with companies: such a great way to (re)design new foods with the prospect of having them in the market! Being a food scientist, one of the advantages is definitely to try the new foods. Until now, creams, snack bars and sport beverages are my favourites, but there is still a lot to come.