Bioprocessing to Preserve and Improve Microalgae Nutritional and Functional Potential: Novel Insight and Perspectives
Microalgae are aquatic unicellular microorganisms and, although various species are approved for human consumption, Arthrospira and Chlorella are the most widespread. Several nutritional and functional properties have been bestowed to microalgae principal micro- and macro-nutrients, with antioxidant, immunomodulatory and anticancer being the most common. The many references to their potential as a food of the future is mainly ascribed to the high protein and essential amino acid content, but they are also a source of pigments, lipids, sterols, polysaccharides, vitamins, and phenolic compounds with positive effects on human health. Nevertheless, microalgae use is often hindered by unpleasant color and flavor and several strategies have been sought to minimize such challenges. This review provides an overview of the strategies so far proposed and the main nutritional and functional characteristic of microalgae and the foods made thereof. Processing treatments have been used to enrich microalgae-derived substrates in compounds with antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-hypertensive properties. Extraction, microencapsulation, enzymatic treatments, and fermentation are the most common, each with their own pros and cons. Yet, for microalgae to be the food of the future, more effort should be put into finding the right pre-treatments that can allow the use of the whole biomass and be cost-effective while bringing about features that go beyond the mere increase of proteins.