What is algae oil?

Algae oil is a neutral, light, and flavorless culinary oil. Algae are technically the mother of all plants, and one of nature’s original oil producers. Algae can be divided into two large groups based on their morphology. Macroalgae seaweeds such as kelp or nori are visible to the naked eye, while microalgae are tiny single celled organisms that can either use sunlight to grow (photosynthetic) or grow without sunlight using sugars (heterotrophic). We tap into heterotrophic microalgae’s natural oil producing ability to make large amounts of oil quickly, through fermentation in large stainless steel tanks.

How do you make algae oil?

The process is similar to using yeast to turn sugar into alcohol, in order to make beverages like beer, wine, or kombucha, or foods like miso or sauerkraut. In this case we feed microalgae plant-based sugars, which they convert into oil. We grow the microalgae in large stainless steel fermentation tanks, in order to optimize growth conditions by providing a highly controlled environment. The result is a more efficient process resulting in consistent product and high oil yield. Once removed from the fermentation tanks, microalgae is dried and expeller pressed to extract oil followed by a process designed to remove impurities and provide a safe product. A key benefit of working with microalgae is that it can metabolize a wide range of sugar types to make oil. We currently make oil with sugarcane in Brazil, but in theory we could make this oil anywhere on demand as long as there is a suitable sugar source.

How is the oil processed?

We first remove free fatty acids and phospholipids (sometimes referred to as ‘gums’) from the algae oil, both of which will spoil the oil unless they are removed. We do this by combining the oil first with sodium hydroxide to remove the free fatty acids, followed by citric acid to remove the phospholipids. Extensive water washing and analytical testing ensures we remove the last traces of sodium hydroxide and citric acid. We follow this with a bleaching step, not with chemical bleaching agents, but rather by using natural earth clays. We typically employ Montmorillonite, which are incredibly porous silicates that will bind to trace metals, color bodies, etc resulting in an even cleaner, purer, and more stable oil. Finally, we deodorize the oil in a process that sparges steam through the oil, under vacuum, to strip out any unpleasant odors and/or flavors.

Why can’t you harvest algae oil in the wild?

While it may be possible to source tiny amounts of oil from wild microalgae in a pond, lake or from the sea, the process would be painstakingly slow and inefficient. It would require combating extreme variations in temperature, light, nutrient availability and contaminant levels. All of these challenges mean a vast surface area of land and volume of water is required to generate sufficient material for harvest. Because we make algae oil in fermentation tanks, in a highly controlled, optimized environment, the cells grow incredibly dense and can attain up to 80% oil by weight in just a few days, with relatively lower environmental impact than it would take to achieve this result harvesting wild microalgae.

Why is algae oil so great to cook with?

Algae oil has impressively high oxidative stability (OSI) which helps it hold up to frying and other demanding, high heat applications in the kitchen, so you can use less oil overall and create less waste. Polyunsaturated fats are inherently unstable with lower oxidative stability than monounsaturated fats1. Their unstable chemical structures can also contribute to increased formation of trans fats and other compounds when exposed to high temperatures or other conditions2. We ran our own fry study in our kitchen and observed algae oil’s efficacy. We fried plain potatoes in algae oil, rice bran oil, and canola oil, using the same batch of oil for 10 separate rounds of frying, and found that algae oil was 5-7x more stable from the first frying to the 10th, while a blind taste panel of 9 of our employees preferred potatoes fried in algae oil3.


1 https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/

2 Bailey’s Industrial Oils and Fats. 2005. Volume 1: Edible Oil and Fat Products: Chemistry, Properties and Health Effects. pp 15-19. John Wiley and Sons.

3 Based on an in- house fry study conducted with 9 Checkerspot employees as tasters, over eight of the ten fry cycles. Stability was assessed by measuring OSI at the conclusion of each fry cycle.

Is algae oil good for the planet?

We have a life cycle assessment showing that our algae oil is obtained from a renewable resource with 47% lower carbon footprint of canola oil and between 37% and 82% less than other commonly used plant oils4. It also consumes less water than other common cooking oils, like olive oil and sunflower oil, due to an efficient, closed fermentation system and the fact that the feedstock used in its production, Brazilian sugarcane, is rain-fed.2 Our algae oil also produces more oil per acre of land when compared to other high heat cooking oils like canola and sunflower oil5.

Algae oil is remarkably neutral in flavor and stable, which makes it ideal for batch preparation and helping reduce food waste in the kitchen. Our chef made batches of salad dressing, mayo, hummus, pesto, cookies and cakes with algae oil and recorded taste, texture, smell, and visuals at regular intervals over a few weeks. She compared recipes with algae oil to recipes made with ingredients like canola oil, butter, and/or eggs, and in some cases also compared the recipes to those with “alternative” dairy-free or vegan ingredients. She observed that recipes made with algae oil tasted as good, if not better, and retained their ideal texture and moisture level longer.

Algae oil is well suited to mimic or replace the creamy, silky, fluffy, or whipped textures that traditional or “alternative” dairy-free and vegan and eggs provide in cocktails, dips, dressings, baked goods, milks, and desserts. Oil is a key building block in a variety of foods, and with algae oil it’s possible to help shift diets away from environmentally-intensive products and create a delicious plant-based menu.

We also prioritize sustainability and user experience when it comes to packaging. Our Bag-in-Box package uses 75% less plastic when compared to a typical five gallon plastic jug. They also act as moveable refill stations for clean and easy refills while cooking on the line.


2 Bailey’s Industrial Oils and Fats. 2005. Volume 1: Edible Oil and Fat Products: Chemistry, Properties and Health Effects. pp 15-19. John Wiley and Sons.
4 Based on a life cycle assessment (LCA) of carbon emissions of our algae oil, compared to published LCA results for U.S. extracted canola oil and globally sourced olive, avocado and soy oils. The LCAs included the life cycle phases from field to bulk packaging.
5 Based on 2016 TerraVia Sustainability Report, Cradle-to-Gate Analysis, Reviewed by ISO 14040/44 standards, which compared water and land use of unrefined algae oil made from sugarcane in Brazil to publicly available data for other major commercial oils grown globally (e.g., Canola oil from Canada, Soybean oil from Brazil, among others) and relied on data from:
Source: Murphy, D. J. (2009). Global oil yields: Have we got it seriously wrong? and FAO Statistical Databases and Technical Conversion Factors for Agricultural Commodities
IndexMundi, 2014
Ruitenberg, 2014

Is algae oil genetically modified?

When it comes to algae oil, we focus on the lipid profile or the amount of “good” fats, called monounsaturated fats6. In algae oil, monounsaturated fats are represented by oleic acid. Oleic acid is present at some level in all oils we consume regularly. For example, olive oil typically contains about 65% oleic acid. We modify the lipid pathway of algae so it produces more monounsaturated fat and the oil has more desirable culinary properties including neutral taste, high stability, and more7. While we modify the lipid pathway of the algae, there is no genetic material, DNA, or protein in the final oil that is produced and consumed.

Though there is no modified genetic material in the finished oil, many of the foods we consume every day have been genetically modified. More than 55% percent of the agricultural cropland in the United States is planted with genetically modified seeds.8 One of the primary motivations driving these genetic modifications has been to increase crop resistance to insect pests (such as the European Corn Borer and Corn Earworm) and herbicides (glyphosate or dicamba), in the latter case so that those chemicals could be applied without harming the crop plant.9 In the case of U.S. crops that have been genetically modified for herbicide-tolerance, studies have concluded that this strategy has resulted in greater proliferation of herbicide-resistant weeds (including glyphosate-resistant weeds), which in turn has resulted in an increase in the use of herbicides to combat these weeds.10 Because residue from the chemicals in herbicides can persist in waterways, land and surrounding natural habitats, broad herbicide use can have harmful effects on our environment, particularly with respect to biodiversity.11 In some cases, herbicides have been linked to negative impacts on human health.12

6 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33562469/

7 Spotlight™ Premium Culinary Algae Oil contains 13 grams of omega-9 fat per serving.

8 https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/charts-of-note/charts-of-note/?topicId=a2d1ab41-13b3-48b5-8451-688d73507ff4#:~:text=Currently%2C%20over%2090%20percent%20of,or%20insect%20resistant%20(Bt)

9 https://www.fda.gov/food/agricultural-biotechnology/why-do-farmers-us-grow-gmo-cropshttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18078304/

10 https://news.virginia.edu/content/largest-ever-study-reveals-environmental-impact-genetically-modified-crops and

11 https://www.epa.gov/caddis-vol2/herbicides#:~:text=For%20example%2C%20exposure%20to%20herbicides,modifying%20habitat%20and%20food%20availability

12 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34052177/ and https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31342895/

Why is algae oil safe for human consumption?

Several versions of algae oil have GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status under the FDA framework and toxicology studies have demonstrated their safety.

This oil was formerly bottled and sold to consumers under the Thrive brand where it was distributed widely to grocery store locations (including Walmart, Sprouts, and Safeway) in the United States. From its launch in 2015 through 2018, Thrive® Culinary Algae Oil was sold to consumers at thousands of retail locations and the brand had a consistent five star rating on Amazon.

For more than 20 years, microalgae have played a crucial role in the production of oils concentrated in Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA (Docosahexanoic acid) and EPA (Eicosapentanoic acid), which are commonly added to infant formula and dietary supplements. Leveraging microalgae for Omega-3 production is widely acknowledged as a way to meet nutritional needs in these applications.13

13 https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/

How is algae oil different from lab grown meat?

Making lab grown meat starts by isolating animal cells to cultivate foods such as “alternative” chicken or beef. Lab grown meat requires taking cells out of their natural context and adding back in growth factors and amino acids as well as sugars. Making algae oil is a completely different process, with different inputs, more akin to growing plants in a highly controlled environment. We provide our microalgae with the same macro- and micronutrients all plants require for growth and rely on its natural processes to produce oil.