Noblegen CEO, Adam Noble, acknowledges that most consumers probably aren’t sure what euglena is – beyond something they probably talked about in biology class.
And while he says that the organism that is the star of Noblegen’s new product can also be referred to as algae, Noblegen is proudly calling its signature ingredient euglena.
“We could take the easy road and just focus in on algae – but us championing the education and science of helping consumers understand what you mean it is, and why understanding the difference of why it’s not just a normal algae, and to call it out specifically because of how unique and exciting it is – is worth asking that question,” Noble told Food Dive.
“So from what we’ve seen is that the consumers appreciate the transparency, and if they don’t understand what euglena is, they want to ask and learn more.”
As consumers and manufacturers become more educated, Noble hopes euglena will work its way into a host of products as a sustainable way to add protein, nutrition and texture.
Through Eunite, Noblegen is testing its products on two tracks: One going directly to consumers for their feedback, and one working with manufacturers to show them what the products can do.
As a scientist, Noble has worked with euglena about four years. Noblegen was founded on the premise of using euglena to mitigate environmental issues, specifically as a component in water treatment.
However, Noble says, the euglena turned out to not be needed for that work, so the company found itself with large amounts of nutrient-rich biomass with no specific application.
Looking at the food and beverage industry’s current need for sustainable, nutrient-rich ingredients, Noble said the company began to zero in on developing it for consumption. Euglena is a source of complete protein, it’s vegan-friendly and can be produced with minimal environmental impact.
“Euglena, from an evolutionary standpoint, evolved before we had plants and animals existing here. So it was the precursor to the more complex organisms that we rely upon for food today,” Noble says.
“So as an alternative [protein] source, it’s able to be a one-size-fits-all solution … in some cases. And being able to leverage that ancient metabolism that underlies the main sources that we rely upon today for food is a really exciting opportunity for us to go back to the basics, and kind of [a] similar philosophy to what’s been applied to ancient grains, but on a whole other level.”
As an ingredient, euglena also doesn’t have some of the challenges that some plant-based proteins have.
Noble says that the ingredient has a smoother mouthfeel than some plant proteins, which can feel chalky to the consumer.
It also does have its own taste, and Noble said the company has been working with some of the top flavouring companies to develop masking solutions.
However, unlike some plant-based protein ingredients, masking its natural taste is not always vital.
Noble says there are no flavour masking ingredients in “the egg”.
The egg is Eunite’s first product for a few reasons, Noble says.
It’s a product that highlights euglena’s natural benefits. Eggs are also a major ingredient in many processed food items. Noble believes that euglena could present a chance for manufacturers to use a sustainable substitute for real eggs. And when it comes to rethinking the food system to be more sustainable, he believes it makes sense to reduce the industry’s dependence on chickens for eggs.
Noble envisions Eunite primarily as a supplier to manufacturers, but a limited number of consumers are already purchasing prototypes of the egg through Eunite to use and offer feedback.
So far, Noble tells Food Dive, consumer reaction to the egg has been positive – and some have been pleasantly surprised, given they may expect a product derived from algae to be “bright green pond scum.”
Euglena’s potential in the food and beverage industry is enormous, says Noble. The egg is a first step, but euglena could also be used in products including protein bars and beverages, as well as in dairy and meat analogs.
According to Noble, Noblegen is currently working on “staple food products,” as well as new takes on products familiar to consumers of plant-based products, and says that he’s looking forward to “new opportunities we have in food to crank things up to a whole other level from a sustainability and a replacement standpoint.”