falafel in a bowl falafel in a bowl Would you eat this falafel if you knew it had microalgae in it? (Photo: HandmadePictures/Shutterstock)

Can falafel made with algae end world hunger?

It's called 'Algalafel,' and its inventors – a group of Israeli students – just won a major award for it.

We love a good food mashup. The combinations run the gamut, from sushiritos (sushi burritos) to donut burgers to tortilla pie, and it's so much fun to discover how surprisingly delicious food can be when two seemingly mismatched dishes are fused together.

And then came ... Algalafel.

Yes, you read that right. It's falafel made with algae. More specifically, it's a lab-created falafel enriched with spirulina. That's an ecologically friendly, nutritious microalgae that has been suggested as a solution for food insecurity and malnutrition and even food for consumption during long-term space flights or Mars missions. Its cultivation, according to the Algalafel's inventors, requires far less land and water to produce than that required to raise cattle or poultry.

Algalafel, all dressed and ready to eat Algalafel, all dressed and ready to eat. (Photo: American Technion Society)

The inventors – a group of students from Israel's Technion Institute in Haifa – won first prize at the EIT (European Knowledge and Innovation Community) Food Project for their Algalafel creation. Eventually, they'd love to market their new falafel as a frozen packaged meal.

What, you must be thinking, does this algae-based falafel taste like? “It tasted very good, almost identical to regular falafel,” said Professor Yoav Livney, the project leader and students' mentor. The student team consisted of graduate students in Technion's Biotechnology and Food Engineering department.

The award-winning Algalafel team at Technion. The award-winning Algalafel team at Technion. (Photo: American Technion Society)

In addition to falafel, the team also concocted a tahini enriched with astaxanthin that's known for such things as giving salmon its reddish color, and giving flamingo feathers their pink hue. The health-promoting compound is found naturally in certain algae and seafood

Both spirulina and astaxanthin compounds are burgeoning players in the plant- and algae-based protein movement, a possible solution to factory farming. And in Israel, where the food tech industry is having an "it" moment, scientists and entrepreneurs are working hand-in-hand to solve the very issues that Algalafel's young innovators are pursuing.

impossible burger The Impossible Burger from California-based Impossible Foods is 100% meat-free and made from plants. (Photo: Impossible Foods)

Many of the inventions coming out of the food tech movement, from the food storage cocoon that combats food waste to the hamburger grown in a lab from plants to the sweetener that tricks your tastebuds, are direct responses to the shared concern of world hunger, food insecurity and concern for the environment.

"Half of [the world] is hungry and the other half is obese," Amir Zaidman, vice president of a food-tech incubator based in Israel, told From The Grapevine. "These guys over here don't have enough food and these guys over here have the wrong kind of food."

Zaidman's company, called The Kitchen, works with Israeli startups to address those concerns and take plant-based, protein-rich products like Algalafel mainstream.

The Kitchen FoodTech Hub has a team of four that work with the startups on a daily basis. The Kitchen FoodTech Hub has a team of four that work with food-tech startups on a daily basis. (Photo: Tal Shahar)

"We want to help the food industry – not only with the food supply, but to make it more efficient and less damaging to the environment," Zaidman said. "So we want to address all of these issues – environmental issues and reducing food waste."

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Can falafel made with algae end world hunger?
It's called 'Algalafel,' and its inventors – a group of college students in Israel – just won a major award for it.