For many people marine algae is synonymous with just one thing: a steaming bowl of seaweed with potatoes, corn and pepper. Chile has a large population of ocean plants that cover the seas and beaches from Arica to Cape Horn, far more than can be consumed by the local population. Some forms of seaweed are considered to be pests because they invade ecosystems and impede the development of certain marine species.
Students from Universidad Andrés Bello’s Aquaculture Engineering program have created some truly innovative products from seaweed to help make better use of this abundant resource. Some examples include:
· Edible containers
Cristián Espinoza y Constanza Valenzuela have addressed this problem by creating an edible glass, which can hold liquids and once used can be eaten by the user. The vessels are made of a compound derived from red algae called "agar". The student team has created several flavors for the new container, including pineapple, orange, strawberry and papaya.
The biggest competitors to this new product are plastic cups and paper. "These take four months are to biodegrade, however the vessels made from edible seaweed only take a week or two, provided the user does not want to eat them", confirmed the students. It can be used for hot and cold liquids. "It melts with heat and tends to liquefy around 80 or 90 degrees Celsius," says Espinoza. In the future, these young students want to make edible dishes to diversify their product line and reach an even larger market.
· Isotonic Drinks
In Chile, running has become a very popular sport. There are a number products on the market, created exclusively for these new athletes, including isotonic drinks. For this reason, UNAB students created an isotonic drink made exclusively with seaweed. It's called "seadrink" and is made from the Rhodophyta (Pyropia columbina) algae.
"The idea came about because we realized that sports drinks are a very artificial market," says Nicole Morales, creator of the brew. The student indicated that one of Seadrink’s main properties is the amino acid taurine, which is essential to the human body because it promotes muscle recovery before intense exercise. Another characteristic is algal fiber, which helps promote digestive health. It also contains vitamins A, C, B1 and E. The product is low in sodium and high in potassium, which helps to prevent muscle cramps. To manufacture the beverage, nutrients are separated from alga, then diluted in purified water and infused with natural fruit flavors.
· After Shave Gel
To ease the pain of shaving, many men use aftershave, but using one made from 100% algae also promotes healing. Christopher Campos and Daniel Puldón are the UNAB students who developed this aftershave product with polyphenols and seaweed extract. "A common aftershave has chemical thickeners, however our product uses alginate (brown algae) that performs the same function," they explained. Propylene glycol and triethanolamine are added to balance the ph and moisturize.
According to Ana Maria Mora, Academic Director of the Aquaculture Engineering program at Universidad Andrés Bello, the students were challenged to create products that make use of algae. "Normally, the complex molecules in seaweed are used for emulsions, to thicken food or for food preservation. Most diet foods, for example, have algae. Our students, however, are looking for alternative uses like edible cups, after shave and sports drinks."
This article has been translated into English to be shared on the Laureate International Universities website.