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Seaweed and the consumer quest for holistic sustainability

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The dietary supplement industry at large has much to gain by making the most of seaweed-derived resources, and not just in terms of profit.

The lifecycle of seaweed extracts paints a sustainable picture

Today’s consumers are more curious than ever about the true origins of the food, beverages and dietary supplements they ingest. Over time, the need to know where ingredients come from has evolved into a deeper desire to understand how ingredients are sourced and the impact of those methods on the planet.

Few ingredients paint a picture of holistic sustainability quite like those derived from seaweed, which can be used in hard and soft capsules, gummies, and other dietary supplement formats. Sustainability plays a part at every stage in the lifecycle of these resources—that’s why we’ve incorporated carrageenan and alginates into our robust dietary supplement portfolio as much as possible. 

At DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences, we take our shared stewardship of the planet seriously, and leveraging the power of these under the sea ingredients which help consumers enjoy a more sustainable supplement regiment while simultaneously reducing manufacturer’s dependence on animal products like gelatin.

The power of seaweed-derived ingredient sources

Edible seaweeds are considered universally safe for human consumption and have been consumed for hundreds of years. Today they are gaining more visibility as a source of macro and micronutrients in functional foods like bakery products, meats, meat alternatives and more. Both alginates from brown seaweed and carrageenan from red seaweed play an important role as a coating, thickening agent and stabiliser in many dietary supplements while enabling a non-GMO, 'clean label.' Both applications are backed by long histories of use and a confirmed safety profile.

More specifically, carrageenan can provide improved thermal stability in capsules, so they don’t stick together when bottled, remaining neatly intact during production and transport. In the case of gummies, carrageenan enables low-sugar formulations with a chewy texture that doesn’t stick to teeth for a more pleasant sensory experience. Alternatively, alginate-based coatings help protect active nutraceutical ingredients from stomach acid and improve consumers’ sensory experience. The easy-to-use formulation provides an efficient and simplified coating process, helping manufacturers reduce cost, while its versatility allows for a wide range of formats: vegetarian hard and soft capsules, and compressed tablets.

Reducing dependence on gelatin

Gelatin, a nearly tasteless substance made by boiling down animal byproducts, is used in formulating many traditional supplements—from gummies, to hard and soft gel capsules. It produces a familiar mouthfeel in gummies resembling gelatin-based foods consumers may have grown up eating—fruit snacks and marshmallows—and allows manufacturers to encapsulate bitter tasting ingredients in hard and soft capsules. However, its inclusion in supplements can be a turn-off to a growing population of vegans and vegetarians, plus those who follow halal or kosher diets.

Dietary supplement manufacturers seeking to deliver health-conscious and convenient options for consumers around the world can turn to vegetarian options. For example, DuPont sustainably sources red seaweed to produce carrageenan based Gelcarin® for vegetarian alternatives to gelatin in the production of gummies, compressed tablets and hard capsules, and SeaGel® for soft gel capsules. Carrageenan helps to overcome many of the most daunting sensory challenges in formulating vegetarian gummies, including reducing stickiness to teeth while chewing and creating an overall pleasant mouthfeel—checking both of these boxes is critical to ensuring a compliant consumer base.  

For Aquateric®, an alginate-based product used in tablets as well as soft and hard capsules, DuPont sources brown seaweed. Alginate technology enables an excellent supplement ingredient, helping to reduce unpleasant flavors and odors associated with the 'fish burp' one typically experiences with a fish oil capsule, for example. This vastly improves the consumer experience and protects nutritional ingredients against the stomach’s acidic environment. Aquateric® N100 delivers maximum functionality for natural dietary supplements while simplifying the manufacturing process. The formula is ready to use, meaning it requires less preparation time, and offers easy coating without clogging spray guns and elimination of coating pan build-up.

And as an added benefit to manufacturers, the products incorporate easily into existing gelatin manufacturing operations—this translates to a wide range of brand strategies with minimum capital investment. For consumers opposed to ingesting gelatin-based supplements, these ingredients enable brands to easily transition from gelatin while masking bitter tastes, creating a creamy mouthfeel, easy swallowability and allowing for intact delivery of the active ingredient.

Better sustainability under the sea

The process of farming and harvesting ingredients from seaweed is environmentally friendly because it helps to balance carbon emissions by absorbing nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon dioxide in the ocean. DuPont seaweed-based products come from sustainably sourcing both carrageenan and alginates, though the two are unique in their respective makeups and harvesting processes. 

Carrageenan is made from red seaweed, a naturally occurring ocean plant that can be sustainably cultivated on small family farms, primarily off the coast of Southeast Asia, East Africa and parts of South America. The low cost of production makes carrageenan a viable solution for small family seaweed farmers around the world. Farming carrageenan is environmentally friendly; it requires no arable farmland, needs no pesticides or special fertilisers, helps protect coral reefs and fish populations, and the seaweed itself clears excess carbon and nitrogen from the ocean. Additionally, when planted in a barren area, the seaweed can attract new wildlife like fish and invertebrates, supporting the restoration of coastal ecosystems. Carrageenan also helps increase food shelf life, which reduces food waste and gives remote locations a chance to enjoy nutritious foods that might otherwise be unavailable.

Alginate, on the other hand, is derived from brown seaweed, which grows in colder waters on the Northern Hemisphere and is sustainably harvested by large trawler boats. While the practice of logging takes an exacting toll on forests, removing most, if not all, trees in a designated area, alginate harvesting takes only a very limited portion of seaweed per harvest. In fact, depending on how hilly the seabed is, a harvest vessel typically catches only a quarter of the seaweed. This means that most of the seaweed in any given harvesting field is left untouched.

Conclusion

The dietary supplement industry at large has much to gain by making the most of seaweed-derived resources, and not just in terms of profit. By utilising seaweed-based products instead of gelatin, manufacturers can reduce their dependence on an ingredient produced through carbon-heavy factory farming and logging, not to mention that the rising trend of veganism can be satisfied. And when you consider the restorative nature of carrageenan farming and the thoughtful process of alginate harvesting, it only reinforces our need as an industry to fully embrace this versatile ingredient.

DuPont’s robust seaweed-based products stand as proof that sustainable business practices can lead to indispensable ingredients. Companies looking to take similar advantage of the world’s seaweed for hydrocolloids have a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on our oceans. As we look to protect crucial marine ecosystems and increase the economic benefits for local areas, DuPont understands the benefits of building relationships with seaweed farmers and harvesters all over the world.

Michael Baumann is global strategic marketing manager, DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences, and Olena Vozniuk is R&D lead process engineer, DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences

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