I used to think of algae as something that I peered at through microscopes during elementary school biology lessons or as the clouds of green goop that touched my toes when I was little and swam in lakes. If you’re a superfood seeker, chances are you have a jar of spirulina in your kitchen that you forget to use. Or perhaps, like me, you’re just not a fan of its seaweed, umami flavor. Recently, I've been giving it another chance. Why? Because it packs a powerful nutritional punch, and NASA has used it as a complete food group for astronauts on space missions. Sold!
The blue green micro-algae variety has been around forever and was even declared the “best food for the future" by the United Nations World Food Conference in 1974. While often dismissed as an unimportant nuisance, algae are in fact a fascinating group of microorganisms, which use the simple components of sunlight, carbon dioxide and mineral water to robustly sustain life and reproduce at incredible rates.
Spirulina 101Spirulina is similar to sea vegetables such as dulse, kelp, nori, Kombu, arame, and wakame. Along with its cousin chlorella, spirulina is a member of the "blue-green" family—but this family is actually not truly algae, they are a cyanobacteria, obtaining their energy through photosynthesis. Unlike other bacteria, they have chlorophyll and use the sun as an energy source, in the way plants and algae do.
A complete protein.Spirulina is a complete protein, containing all eight essential amino acids, crucial for all biological processes in the body. It’s rich in iron, betacarotene, chlorophyll, antioxidants and Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids along with calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper and phosphorous. And that's not all! It also contains vitamins B5, B1, B2, B3 and B12 and is said to be the richest source after human milk in anti-inflammatory properties.
Where does it come from?
Wild spirulina grows in the alkaline lakes of Mexico and on the African continent, although it is commercially grown and harvested all over the world. It reproduces quickly, and because the individual organisms tend to clump together, it's easy to harvest. Commercial production of spirulina is estimated to reach 220,000 tons by the year 2020—Japan is the largest producer of spirulina, as well as the largest consumer.
Algae's new beauty iteration.
Now it’s enjoying a second wave of popularity thanks to the rise of super smoothies, raw desserts, and DIY beauty buffs! You can add it to a green smoothie, into guacamole, sprinkle on homemade popcorn, and even make it into a radiance-boosting face mask. Remember though, a little goes a long way. Start by adding a teaspoon and build up from there, and if you really still can’t stand the taste, then you can also take it in tablet form.