Algatech, based in Israel, has been a leader in the production of natural astaxanthin from algae, which it cultivates in a closed tube system in the Negev desert in Israel. The system allows for a highly controllable and reliable output, and the company has been acknowledged as producing some of the purest raw material in the business.
Demand, and capacity, continues to rise
Popularity of the ingredient has soared in recent years following a high profile mention on the Dr Oz show. But unlike other ingredients that have ridden that wave, the demand of astaxanthin has only grown. Suppliers around the world have jostled for a place at the table each announcing in turn a boost in production capacity from China to India to Mexico.
The supply end of the equation is the (relatively) easy part. What suppliers like Algatech, with all their technical prowess, can’t do, however, is to change the basic chemistry of the ingredient, which in Algatech's case is branded as AstaPure. Astaxanthin is an insoluble, lipophilic carotenoid. Getting it into the bloodstream, or even getting it into something other than a capsule, has been the challenge.
That’s where Virun’s proprietary Esolv technology comes in. Virun, based in Walnut, CA, is a biotech development company that specializes in new delivery technologies for pharmaceuticals and dietary supplement ingredients.
“We’ve had the Esolv technology for a while,” Philip Bromley, CEO of Virun told NutraIngredients-USA. “We’ve found a way to produce a diester form of this vitamin E. Mixed with astaxanthin it creates a neutral taste powder.”
Clear presentation, muted taste
Bromley said the technology can result in the ability to add astaxanthin to a clear, shelf stable beverage at a dosage load of 30 mg of astaxanthin per gram of powder. For a higher dosage, the ingredient is also offered at a 60mg/g dose, which, while still shelf stable, results in a more opaque presentation.
The ability to add astaxanthin easily to beverages is a boon in that the some of the biggest demand for the ingredient has come from the sports nutrition sphere where beverages rule the roost, Bromley said.
“There was that study showing improved cycling time trial performance using astaxanthin, and since then everyone wants to put it into a beverage,” Bromley said.
But the days are past when sports nutrition aficionados would gladly choke down almost any awful tasting thing if they thought it would work. Astaxanthin in and of itself isn’t the most pleasant tasting ingredient, and that’s where the other aspects of the Esolv technology come into play, Bromley said.
“It’s a five-step process. After we encapsulate the astaxanthin, we send it through our bicarbonate process, which is a room temperature process. The bicarbonate is encapsulated with astaxanthin and helps stabilize it and buffers the taste. Astaxanthin by itself has kind of a fishy flavor. This new ingredient can be offered in a Hawaiian punch type flavor,” he said.