Something’s Fishy Here: Omega-3 Can Be Derived From Algae

The accompanying sidebar from Martek explains the nutritional importance and benefits of DHA and ARA oils in infant development and growth and actually its nutritional value for all age groups. DHA is a long chain omega-3 fatty acid and ARA is an omega 6 fatty acid. As discussed in the accompanying sidebar, many people mistakenly think that these fatty acids can only be derived from fish. In fact, what prompted this little piece is a prior article in this magazine, which may have given the impression that all DHA and ARA fatty acids are seafood-derived. Fish is of course a category of food which is kosher sensitive, as only fish which have fins and scales are kosher. Thus, in order for fish-derived DHA and ARA oil to be accepted as kosher, we need to know that they were derived from a kosher fish source.

Compounding that concern is that even if the DHA and ARA oils were derived from a kosher fish source, there may be shared equipment concerns in some of the processing plants. Of course, kosher fish-derived DHA and ARA oil is available with the appropriate kosher controls.

However, as we began, there is a significant amount of kosher DHA and ARA oil available that is manufactured through fermentation which can provide the nutritional value of these important oils through a process that uses no fish-derived ingredients. It involves a fermentation process that uses an algae source.

The process starts with inoculating the algae microorganism into approximately a one-liter flask containing media, which in this case means a liquid solution of nutrients that are consumed by the algae microorganism. After a period of growth in the initial flask, a seed fermentor is made up also with media, sterilized and cooled and then inoculated with the contents of the first flask. Again, after a period of growth, a main fermentor (which is a much bigger vessel) is prepared by the same method as the seed fermentor and inoculated with the contents of the seed fermentor.

When the growth is completed in the main fermentor, the process moves to recovery and eventual drying followed by extraction and then refining, bleaching and deodorizing. Kosher requirements are that all ingredients used to make up the nutrients used in the media are kosher. Of course, all steps in the process are kosher controlled to ensure that only kosher ingredients are used in the media, any processing aids, antifoams, etc., and that all equipment is in kosher status.

When completed, we have a completely kosher DHA and ARA oil product that contains all the benefits of the product derived from marine sources, without the use of any fish-derived ingredients. Thanks to the technology of companies like Martek and in cooperation with the OU Kosher, one can get the complete nutritional benefits of DHA and ARA oils — kosher certified and no fish needed.

Rabbi Menachem Adler studied at the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem and at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, where he was awarded the Bachelor of Talmudic Law degree and also received rabbinical ordination. He also earned a B.S. degree with a major in computer science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Rabbi Adler joined OU Kosher in 1992 as rabbinic coordinator specializing in enzymes, biotechnology companies, as well as companies in the emulsifier, vegetable oil, dairy and coffee creamer industries. His learned series of Kosher Tidbits on kashrut issues in the area of enzymes and biotechnology have elicited much interest. (A link to a Kosher Tidbit presentation on enzymes is found below.) Married and the father of three children, Rabbi Adler resides in Far Rockaway, NY.