Sophie’s BioNutrients is on a mission to transform plant-based meat and alt dairy categories with microalgae.
Its most recent innovation, which it has achieved in collaboration with the Danish Technological Institute (DTI), is a chlorella-based ice cream. The product hits the mark on sustainability, nutrition, and functionality, according to the start-up.
The dairy- and lactose-free alternative to ice cream offers a higher nutrition content than most available dairy-free alternatives, said Eugene Wang, co-founder and CEO of Sophie’s BioNutrients.
“We are incredibly excited for this development in allergen-free foods and the prospect of more inclusive dining.”
‘Nutrient-rich and versatile’ microalgae
Sophie’s BioNutrients was established in 2017 by co-founders Wang and CTO Kirin Tsuei in Singapore, but the start-up recently set up shop at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands.
After Wang learnt of his daughter Sophie’s allergy to shellfish, the duo committed themselves to creating a high-quality, nutritious, and importantly non-allergenic, protein alternative.
The answer, according to the co-founders, lies in microalgae. Sophie’s BioNutrients ferments microalgae in bioreactors before isolating its proteins and transforming it into a powder for food formulation.
The neutral-hued microalgae flour is cultivated from Chlorella vulgaris and harvested within three days. These microalgae strains are US GRAS and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approve for use as food ingredients or supplements.
It is the Chlorella vulgaris strains that Sophie’s BioNutrients has worked into the vegan ice cream formulation. “Microalgae is one of the most nutrient-rich and versatile resources on the planet,” said Wang. “Today, we have shown another facet of the unlimited possibilities this superfood can offer.”
Nutritious, functional, sustainable
Unlike conventional plant-based ice cream, the chlorella-based ice cream boasts a complete nutritional profile. A one ounce serving has the potential to provide double the recommended daily intake of B12, and chlorella also a good source of iron – which is absent from cow’s milk.
The global vegan ice cream category is on an upwards trajectory. According to Research and Markets, the market was valued at $592.8m (€592.89m) in 2021 and is expected to reach $833.8m by 2027 at a healthy CAGR of 5.45%.
In terms of functionality, Sophie’s BioNutrients claims that in combination with other functional ingredients, the product ‘mimics natural ice cream texture’ and can be ‘easily’ made into several popular ice cream flavours with add-on toppings. When asked what the ice cream tasted like, Wang told this publication the 'vanilla flavouring was strong', and so it tasted 'almost like real ice cream'. "My guess is that if you don't use flavouring, it would taste like our powder - which has a very mild and pleasant algae taste."
The product also offers a ‘significantly’ lower carbon footprint, noted the start-up. ‘Green solutions’ facilitator DTI agreed. “Microalgae is definitely part of the future It is a sustainable ingredient with a lot of potential in multiple food applications,” said Anne Louise Dannesboe Nielsen, Director of Food Technology at DTI.
“At DTI, we are increasingly experiencing interest in microalgae and are eager to help grow, understand, and explore its potential.”
Although the vegan ice cream collaboration between DTI and Sophie's BioNutrients was a research project only, Wang told us the start-up is now talking to numerous dairy companies and plant-based diary start-ups in the hope of turning the innovation into a commercial product.