Israel is known for its tasty, nutritious and cheap falafel (fried chickpea – hummus – balls), served with salads and tahini (sesame-seed paste), but it has been improved on using microalgae grown in the Arava in the south.

The world is literally hungry for new types of tasty, nutritious food that is also inexpensive, can be produced rapidly in a relatively small space and doesn’t contribute to global warming or rob the Earth of its natural resources.

With an expected 9.8 billion mouths to feed in 2050, the amount of food currently produced must double to meet the needs of the expected population. Plant-based – rather than animal-based – protein is the answer; today, a billion people around the world suffer from inadequate amounts of protein, and many livestock suffer unduly in an often-cruel transport and slaughtering process.

It sounds like an impossible bill to fill, but a team of graduate students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have made an important contribution, winning first prize in the EIT Food Project (European Knowledge and Innovation Community) Competition held in early December. The two-day event was hosted by the Technion on its campus, lectures on microalgae and local tours, concluding with the competition.

After a year’s work, the women students produced Algalafel, comprised of falafel enriched with spirulina, with additional tahini enriched with astaxanthin, a carotenoid chemical found naturally in certain plants and animals that gives salmon and lobster their reddish color and flamingo feathers their pink hue.

Mentored by Prof. Maya Davidovich-Pinhas, Prof. Uri Lesmes, Prof. Avi Shpigelman and project leader Prof. Yoav Livney the Technion team consisted of Meital Kazir, Yarden Abuhassira-Cohen, Hani Shkolnikov, Hila Tarazi and Ina Nephomnyshy, The panel of judges noted that the team of Technion students presented very high-quality, ready-to-market products.

Technion Team: front row (students) left to right: Meital Katzir, Hila Tarazi, Ina Nephomnyshy, Yarden Abuhassira-Cohen and Hani Shkolnikov; Back row, left to right: Prof. Maya Davidovich-Pinhas, Prof. Avi Shpigelman, Prof. Uri Lesmes, Prof. Yoav D. Livney, Prof. Marcelle Machluf (Dean, Biotechnology & Food Engineering) and Anat Eshel Gur (Graduate Studies Secretary). (Credit: Courtesy Technion)

The second prize was awarded to a team of students from the Germany’s University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart who developed Algini, a lentil-based, spirulina-enriched vegan product enriched with spirulina. In third place were students from Finland’s University of Helsinki who created a vegan fermented dessert enriched with spirulina.

By connecting consumers with businesses, start-ups, researchers and students from around Europe, EIT-Food supports creative and economically sustainable initiatives that promote health, access to quality food and the environment. The project included also three industrial partners: Israel’s Algatechnologies, which also supplied the raw microalgae materials used by the teams, Germany’s Doehler and Finland’s Fazer.

As an ecologically friendly, nutritious microalgae that free-float on water, spirulina has been suggested as a solution for food insecurity and malnutrition and even food for consumption during long-term space flight or Mars missions. Spirulina production requires much less land and water to produce protein and energy than that needed by cattle or poultry.

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Ironically, this natural product has been around for a long time and was used for sustenance many years ago. It was a daily food source for the Aztecs and others in the Americas and in Africa until the 16th century, but it seemed to lose popularity when nearby lakes were drained for agriculture and urban development.

Dried spirulina contains 5% water, 24% carbohydrates, 8% fat, and about 60% protein. The microalgae are autotrophic, that is, they have the gift of being able to make their own food and do not need a living energy or organic carbon source.

Back in 1974, the World Health Organization described spirulina as “an interesting food for multiple reasons, rich in iron and protein” that can be and is able to be fed to children without any risk.

By connecting consumers with businesses, start-ups, researchers and students from around Europe, EIT Food supports innovative and economically sustainable initiatives that improve human health, our access to quality food and our environment – connecting partners from leading businesses, universities, research centers and institutes across 13 countries in Europe and from the entire food value chain.

The partnership’s aim is to develop a highly skilled food sector, which collaborates with consumers to provide products, services and new technologies, which deliver a healthier lifestyle. The researchers want to redesign the way we produce, deliver, consume and recycle our food

For a whole year, the three groups studied the subject, familiarized with relevant research methods and developing micro-algae-based products. The event at the Technion opens with a lecture by Dr. Omer Grundman of Algetek on the production of micro-algae at the company’s plant at Ketura in the Arava and on algae’s micro-algae products.

The competition was attended by groups of graduate students from the Technion, the University of Helsinki in Finland and the German University of Hohenheim. The project began in January and continued at an introductory meeting in March 2018, organized by the University of Hohenheim and Doehler. This meeting marked the beginning of the research and development process, culminating in the two-day event at the Technion.

On the first day, a chef from the Israeli Strauss company (which makes hummus) held a a culinary workshop on preparing hummus with additions based on micro-algae. The day ended with the “Holiday of Holidays” festival in Haifa’s German Colony.

Source: Israel in the News