Are All Algal Oils

6 minute read


Algae can be grown through a fermentation process like beer or kombucha – using sugar(carbon) to make long-chain fattyacids (EPA and DHA).
Different omega-3 oils require different processing steps; the best sensory performing oils go through as few processing steps as possible.
What algae are fed matters. Producers choose different sources of carbon to feed their algae during the lipid production process. Some sources can be genetically modified, like GMO corn glucose, but we’ve made the decision to use Non-GMO glucose as our feed source.
Product transparency is key for those consumers who actively choose to buy a vegan alternative to fish-based omega-3s.
We will never use genetic modification in the production of our ingredients. Our algae strain remains as close as possible to the wild algae originally harvested from the Bay of Fundy.

Have you ever wondered how algae makes omega-3 fatty acids? Why are some algal oils Non-GMO and others aren’t?

In this blarticle, we dig into how algae are grown (or made in some cases), what algae are fed and why some omega-3 algae ingredients can make claims that others can’t.

There are a wide range of sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Flax and chia provide short-chain omega-3s while fish, krill and algae are good sources of long-chain omega-3s. Like with many things, each source of omega-3s has its own features.

Algal oils are a great source of EPA and DHA, and today’s consumers are increasingly mindful of transparency. In recent years, algae has grown to have about 4% of the long-chain omega-3 global market. It’s a perfect fit for consumers who are concerned with “fish burps,” environmental pollutants, sustainable fishing and coastal populations who rely on marine ecosystems.

Let’s explore more about why not all algal oils are created equal.

So how do algae make omega-3s EPA and DHA anyway?

It’s through a process of fermentation, like how beer and kombucha are made! When left in the dark, algae consume glucose (carbon) and various other nutrients to transform simple sugar carbons into longer carbon lipids within their cells.
Producers choose different sources of carbon to achieve different certifications and price targets for their algae products (more on that later!).

Next, producers add an enzyme to the fermentation tank. This enzyme begins to digest the outer cell wall of the algae, weakening the barrier holding the lipids inside. The cells are then centrifuged, using g-force, and the lipids are separated from water and remaining cell debris.

This advancement in lipid separation was a major catalyst for making algae both more sustainable and a good choice for consumers. Before this, algae were extracted with a range of harsh chemical solvents like hexane.

After extraction, algal oil is collected and refined to remove its color and oxidative compounds. So what’s left? A product that looks and tastes like the vegetable oil you see on store shelves.

Fish oils go through a similar, but more intense, refining process to remove color, oxidative compounds, heavy metals, and other aquatic environment contaminants.

Each producer processes algae and fish oil a bit differently. At Algarithm, we keep our processing steps to a minimum: this is a key reason why our ingredients are consistently selected for their industry leading sensory experience. When consumers use descriptors like “buttery,” “creamy” and “slightly nutty” to describe the taste of our omega-3 oil, we know we’re doing something right!

One common question we get from brands and consumers we work with is “Why aren’t all algal oils on the market Non-GMO?”

Born to be wild

There are two reasons why an algal omega-3 oil can be Non-GMO or GMO. First is the algae itself – almost all algae producing lipids today were once wild algae harvested from the ocean or another aquatic ecosystem.

Once collected, algae can be manipulated from the wild type through genetic modification or traditional breeding techniques to get the algae to do more of what humans want. In this case, that’s to produce more long-chain fatty acids.

For us, there’s no question. We will never use genetic modification to produce our ingredients. Our strain was wild sourced from the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, and is now grown safely in closed tanks. This keeps it as close to the wild type as possible, while making sure our ingredients are free of pollutants such as pesticides, heavy metals and microplastics.

You are what you eat

The other way algae-derived ingredients can be GMO is through what they are fed. While regulators allow producers to claim their ingredients are Non-GMO if they don’t contain GMO proteins, some algae producers choose to use GMO corn glucose to make the fats their algae produce.
While this algal oil may not technically be labeled as a GMO ingredient, the carbon source used to make these lipids are GMO-based ingredients.

When Algarithm started, we made the decision to use Non-GMO glucose as our carbon source. This choice allows us to be the only Non-GMO Project Verified algal oil produced in North America — and we’re thrilled about this!

We live in an era where ingredients and supply chain transparency are top-of-mind for consumers. While we aren’t saying there is an issue with what any one producer chooses to feed their algae, we do think that it’s important to be as honest as possible.

At Algarithm, our mission is to make the consumption of plant-based omega-3s easy, enjoyable and ecofriendly for everyone. This includes our ongoing commitment to transparency.

So, when in doubt, look for that Non-GMO Project Verified butterfly on products you buy. With the butterfly, consumers can make an informed choice!


Have a question about Algarithm’s vegan Omega-3s? Don’t be shy — get in touch.