“It tastes like bacon. It’s crispy, and then you get this big flavor bomb,” says Beth Zotter, the CEO of Umaro foods. The San Francisco-based start-up is making bacon from an unlikely source—seaweed.
Zotter is one of many entrepreneurs tapping into the potential of algae, a category that encompasses thousands of different marine species, ranging from floating clumps made of green-tinted plankton to long ribbons of kelp.
It’s a booming industry that needs to keep growing, say the scientists who think algae has the potential to help feed the world’s growing population. The global population is now hovering around eight billion; by 2050, it will reach nearly 10 billion, according to the United Nations.
To feed that many people, global food production would need to grow by 50 percent, an increase that would require 1.4 billion acres of land, according to one study. Cultivating that much land would make it harder to fight climate change and protect species from extinction because ecosystems such as forests sequester carbon pollution and foster biodiversity. But algae in its various forms may help fill those nutritional gaps.
“This crop doesn’t require freshwater. Doesn’t require land. Doesn’t require fertilizer,” says Charles Yarish, a professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut. “What it requires is ocean water and light.”
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