There’s one mantra the health and fitness community (yours truly included) has steadfastly adhered to over the past couple of years: There’s no problem that can’t be cured with coconut oil. Dry skin? Apply coconut oil. Bad breath? Pull with coconut oil. Weight issues? Coconut oil. High cholesterol? Coconut oil. Bae didn’t text back? Coconut oil.
Except, there’s another oil that’s even more potent, and wellness bloggers are just starting to clue into it: algae oil. I know; it sounds hideous—but despite the unfortunate fishy connotations, this stuff is actually completely brilliant. Trust me, I tried it.
Like its name suggests, the buzzy product is made from algae, which naturally produces oil. One major producer, Thrive, actually grows the algae in fermentation tanks, then presses the plant to make oil that sells for around $12 for a large bottle. Thanks to the hype surrounding sea plants (hello, nori seaweed), algae oil is starting to gain steam on the health circuit.
Before I sell you on the taste (and other cooking benefits), the biggest talking point about algae oil is its impressive healthy attributes. Like coconut oil, algae oil is packed with good fats and skimps on bad (saturated) fats—more so than any other cooking oil on the market, in fact.
“Algae is a rich source of one type of omega-3 fatty acid (docosahexaenoic acid or DHA) that helps to reduce the inflammation in the body,” explained Rebecca Stritchfield, a registered dietitian, who you may have spotted talking about food and health on Today, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN.
Surprisingly, the flavor is very light and not at all fishy; it’s virtually flavorless and quite neutral. It didn’t really add or detract from the flavor of the grilled chicken I tested it with. I like it, but if you’re an olive oil girl who loves lots of flavor, this might not be your jam. Compared with other cooking oils, algae has a higher smoke point (485˚F.), which basically means it’s way easier to cook with.
“Chefs find the high smoke point ideal for a wide variety of cooking applications and love that the neutral taste allows the natural flavors of ingredients to stand out in flavorful dishes. It has the versatility of a vegetable or canola oil for high-heat cooking, but it has a healthier fat profile,” explained Mark Brooks, senior vice president at Thrive.
Of course, it’s not just the benefits of eating coconut oil that have propelled me to always have a jar on my counter—it’s the topical uses, too, so I wanted to make sure algae oil lived up to these expectations.
I usually oil pull with coconut oil daily, swishing it around in my mouth for about 15 minutes (I find it helps to keep acne at bay and to whiten my teeth), so I swapped to the ocean alternative for a week to see if there was any difference. In terms of results, everything stayed stable, but I actually preferred the algae oil’s flavor, which is much more subtle than coconut oil’s. (Side note: I’ve tried this with olive and sesame oil before and don’t recommend it—ickkk.)
Every evening, I also massage coconut oil into my cuticles, a habit that I’ve found has strengthened my nails since I picked it up about a year ago. Naturally, I made the switch to algae oil for a few nights to check out the difference. Again, my nails feel exactly the same, but the new oil feels thinner and lighter than coconut oil, so the residue dries faster (bonus).
I never thought I’d say this, but I think coconut oil just got knocked off its pedestal—or, at the very least, off my kitchen counter.