Oils from fruit fly larvae and algae are among potential commercial alternatives to traditional vegetable oils — and there is strong interest from manufacturers, according to Food Navigator.
Algae and fruit fly oils are cheaper to produce and more environmentally friendly than vegetable oils, with a low carbon and water footprint and a crop cycle of just a few days. They both have a favorable health profile too. Fruit fly oil is high in omega 7, which is said to protect against weight gain. Algae oil supplier Solazyme told Food Navigator its product is high in monounsaturated fat and contains 75% less saturated fat than olive oil.
Fruit fly oil supplier Flying Spark says its oil can be used in both sweet and savory products. Algae oil has a neutral taste and can be used as a culinary oil in baking, frying and coating, and in dressings and margarines, Solazyme told Food Navigator.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says the biggest challenge for insect ingredients is consumer acceptance, and oil from fruit fly larvae is certainly no exception. The FAO claims that disgust can be overcome relatively quickly, saying that the rapid acceptance of raw fish in the form of sushi is a good example of this. Around two billion people around the world already regularly eat insects. For most western consumers, some might argue that fruit fly oil is more over the line than sushi, since insects — in any form — are not habitually eaten.
Flying Spark told Food Navigator that it was working with multinational food and ingredients manufacturers, which proves that they were not repelled by the ingredient. But even if ingredient suppliers are curious, that doesn’t necessarily translate into consumer acceptance.
Manufacturers’ experience with insect-derived cochineal could provide a useful parallel. The red dye was used for years in foods before the Food and Drug Administration required it to be labeled in 2009, and many consumers — particularly vegetarians — were horrified by the ingredient. Starbucks, among others, was prompted to reformulate with other natural colors.
Algae oil, on the other hand, has already achieved a great deal of success. Varieties high in DHA omega 3 fatty acids are widely used in infant formula and supplements, as well as food for adults. Widely consumed — and vegan — algae may well be poised for broader use.
Consumer acceptance is never guaranteed, however. Algae-derived carrageenan, which has been used as an emulsifier for decades, is controversial because of reports it has caused digestive distress. Last year, the National Organic Standards Board recommended it no longer be permitted in organic food. These moves could prompt manufacturers to take a cautious approach.
Demand is likely to grow for alternative oils, especially if they are cheaper than current options. Increasing global affluence leads to greater overall demand for vegetable oils. Much of the land to produce them has come at the expense of tropical forest over the past few decades, particularly for palm and soybean oils – although palm oil has by far the greatest yield per hectare.
Alternatively, algae produces about 70,000 pounds of oil per acre, compared to palm oil’s 4,465 pounds per acre. For comparison, olives produce about 910 pounds per acre, and soybeans produce just 335.