The original algae superfood!
Appeared in Conscious Living Magazine (2007).
Spirulina is the name commonly used to refer to a food supplement produced primarily from micro blue-green algae, which lives on sunlight through photosynthesis in alkaline waters. It has been highly valued as an excellent source of nourishment by many different cultures for centuries. Now widely available in many different forms - tablet, powder, flake & liquid, it is fast becoming one of the better known so called "superfoods."
Historically Spirulina is thought to have been a food source for the Aztecs, as reported by the Spanish in the 16C, during their occupation of parts of Central America. After its harvesting from Lake Texcoco, which is located in Mexico, it was sold in a cake form. The Aztecs apparently called it Tecuitlati, meaning stone's excrement, perhaps indicating they were not mad on the taste of it but recognised the nutritional value despite this. Researchers in the 1960's found a plentiful supply of Spirulina at Lake Texcoco & the world's first large scale production plant was established there in the 1970's.
The cultivation of Spirulina takes place on lakes & in open channel raceway ponds, with paddle wheels used to agitate the water. It grows naturally in lakes in China, Mexico & Chad & is now being cultivated commercially in these places. Further commercial cultivation of Spirulina is now taking place in Thailand, the USA, India, China, Taiwan & Myanmar. There has been much discussion over the last few decades about the ability of micro-algae's like Spirulina to become superior food sources that could feed the hungry in the third world & hopefully end malnutrition & starvation amongst the poor. Indeed space agencies like NASA & the European Space agency have proposed Spirulina to be a likely candidate as a food source that could be cultivated aboard spacecraft during lengthy journeys.
Spirulina is a complete protein & contains unusually high amounts of protein in comparison to all other plant sources. The nutritional content of Spirulina are many and varied, with all 8 essential amino acids and 10 non-essential amino acids present. It is also a rich source of vitamin C, B complex & E. The provitamin Beta Carotene is also contained in Spirulina & this is turned into Vitamin A by our bodies. Its deep green colour comes from its rainbow of natural pigments - chlorophyll (green), phycocyanin (blue) and carotenoids (orange) - that harvest the sun's energy. Spirulina is easy-to-digest, which means that the nutrients are absorbed quickly. Spirulina is also a natural source of iron. Spirulina contains anti-oxidants, which of course are important in reducing the effect of free radicals that contribute to the ageing process & setting up a conducive environment for diseases. It has many unique phyto-nutrients like phycocyanin, polysaccharides and sulfolipids that enhance the immune system, possibly reducing risks of infection and auto-immune diseases. It has cleansing chlorophyll which helps detoxify our bodies of ever present pollution.
Any contentious issues involving Spirulina are mostly directed at the purity, quality of cultivation, harvesting & manufacturing processes. Whether certain spirulina's are from organic, natural sources or rather artificially grown, often to avoid the possibility of toxic blue-green algae outbreaks that can occur in lakes around the world. In either case today's Spirulina is cultivated in man- made ponds or strictly controlled water-ways. There is continuing scientific research into improving all aspects of cultivation & manufacturing. This really is a superfood that has the potential to not only greatly improve your own health but quite possibly feed the world as well. As we continue to over populate our planet & pollute our traditional food sources it may be time to turn to the wondrous spiral shaped micro-algae for our trip into the future.
Appeared in Conscious Living Magazine.