Red algae. (Photo: Anonymous Powered/CC BY-SA 3.0)
Red macroalgae properties researched
Thursday, April 24, 2014, 23:50 (GMT + 9)
A team of researchers from the Universidad Nacional del Litoral (UNL) is studying red macroalga, which is abundant on the Atlantic coast in the south of the country and has nutritional properties.
Scientists also believe that this alga, Phorphyra columbina, has really beneficial bioactive compounds for health.
According to Silvina Drago, a researcher on the project together with Raul Cian, the idea of working with these algae grew out of discussions of experts from the Institute of Food Technology (ITA) of the Faculty of Chemical Engineering (FIQ) with their counterparts of the National University of Patagonia San Juan Bosco (UNPSJB).
"They had assessed the nutritional properties and found that in the area where they are gathered there are low contamination levels from heavy metals. Then, we became interested in studying other properties and evaluating the possibility of incorporating them to food," explained the scientist.
In Chile, this macroalgae is part of the staple diet. The algae are harvested when the tide moves away, washed in sea water or distilled in the laboratory, and then they are dried or ground.
UNL researchers designed a procedure to extract the various components of algae: carbohydrates and proteins.
Moreover, they observed that these macroalgae possess film forming properties, which could be used to produce food packaging, among other uses.
"We separated a fraction that has high rubber content, composed of carrageenan and agarana. We also separated proteins and obtained phycobiliproteins, which are those that give colour to the algae, we modified them by enzymatic hydrolysis to generate peptides with increased activity, and we evaluated their bioactive properties," remarked the scientist.
Meanwhile, Cian studied the qualities of algae in a laboratory at the University of Granada (Spain), as part of his PhD thesis work.
"We worked with rats, to which we extracted white blood cells, we grew them and then studied if the algae compounds produced pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory effects. We verified that the latter was produced although in some fractions more than in others," he explained.
The discovery of these properties led the scientific group to consider the production of snacks to which algae can be added.
First they performed in vitro tests and corroborated that the manufacturing process did not alter their bioactive properties.
As Drago said, they observed that the incorporation of algae produced "favoring antioxidant effects for the colonic mucosal health, an ability the algae have in defense for the high exposure to solar radiation."
Product acceptability was assessed with an ITA qualified panel in compliance with scientific criteria.
"We achieved a type of food that is really enjoyable to the senses and that responds well to the expansion for snacks, with the appropriate crispiness and good taste. To manufacture it, algae must be washed and dried before incorporating it," Drago said.
Besides the production of snacks, this alga could be used to prepare sushi, "as Phorphyra columbina is a 'cousin' of nori seaweed, which is used to make this Oriental dish," she added.
By Analia Murias