Move over Moringa Make room for Spirulina By Ines Wynn


Remember the spirulina craze from the 70s and 80s? Yep, that tasteless, motley green powder we mixed with water and choked down because it “was healthy and good for you”? Today it is enjoying a rebirth as one of the most talked about superfoods.  Amidst all the hoopla about superfoods it is taking a prominent place with the recognition that it is, in fact, the most nutrient dense food on the planet because of all the nutrients, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and proteins it contains. The United Nations and the World Health Organization have labeled spirulina a complete food because it contains all of the essential amino acids and  many of the essential nutrients for good nutrition.

What exactly is it? – Spirulina is a blue-green algae, a living organism that grows in extreme alkaline and high PH environments which is inhospitable to bacteria and other life forms. Spirulina thrives in alkaline lakes where it is difficult or impossible for other microorganisms to survive. Therefore it goes without saying that the bacteria count in spirulina, when harvested and dried without further processing, is low as well. Its name comes from the spiral form that can be observed through a microscope.

Spirulina is found worldwide with the highest concentration in Africa, especially in Chad and the Rift Valley, in Latin America (Mexico and the Andean mountains) and in Asia, particularly in Myanmar, Thailand and India. Lesser concentrations are found in the USA’s Klamath Lake in Oregon.

The history of spirulina goes back 3.6 billion years with the emergence of the first photosynthetic life forms that in fact created the oxygen atmosphere in which other life forms could develop and thrive. Fossils have been found from that era, showing filaments of these single cells stacked end on end. The shape unmistakably is spirulina.

With a long history of human consumption, Spirulina is known to be safe and nutritious.  The ancient Aztecs and Incas caught on to its many benefits and made it a staple element in their diet. Long before the Spanish conquest, Peru’s Incas made algae flour and carried dried algae cakes while traveling. The Aztecs called it techuitlatl and used it as an important  food source. They often combined spirulina with cacao and chia seeds for an over-all super-boost. Indigenous African populations in Chad still make a traditional green, dry bread from spirulina.

Spirulina Farm project in Bali – While Bali does not claim any natural high alkaline lakes, the growing conditions for farming spirulina have been aptly replicated by Loik Greuet, an enterprising Frenchman who started a spirulina farm in Kedungu, Tabanan from a special strain called Paracas that is found in a volcanic lake in the mountains of Peru.  In this quiet rural village close to Kedungu Beach, he has created 6 separate ponds with a total surface of 800m2 in which he duplicates the high PH environment of a volcanic lake by using clean well water saturated with sea salt and bicarbonate of soda until it reaches a PH level of 10.  That is a level at which few bacteria will survive.  The ponds are kept shallow at 20 cm deep to encourage the photosynthetic process and keep the algae close to the surface where they are protected by permeable overhead linings to allow sunlight and cooling breezes. These can further be adjusted to allow the optimal amount of light and heat during certain times of the day.

The extraction process is simple enough. When the spirulina is ready for harvesting, it is pumped through wide hoses onto a straining bed where the water is drained and the spirulina is pressed to extract all water. The product is then collected and processed further in an apparatus similar to that used for drying sausages. It is pulled into long spaghetti strands and placed onto mesh screen racks in a drying chamber where the humidity is controlled. This drying process at low temperature in a closed room for 20 hours preserves all the nutriments and guarantees the purity of the spirulina. After drying it is then processed into crunchies which can be added to salads and cereals or ground  into a powder delicious in smoothies, soups and any other dish of your choice. The taste is very mellow with a hint of seaweed. There is no fishy taste at all.

Health benefits- Spirulina is deemed the most nutritionally complete of all food supplements because it contains a rich supply of many important nutrients, including protein, complex carbohydrates, iron, and vitamins A, K, and B complex. Its distinct bluish tint comes from phycocyanin, a powerful water soluble antioxidant. Phycocyanin is only found in blue-green algae like spirulina—you can’t get it in other foods. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, and elements that protect your brain and liver. Spirulina also has a high supply of carotenoids such as beta carotene, is a great source of naturally occurring selenium and yellow xanthophylls, both powerful anti-oxidants. It is rich in chlorophyll, fatty and nucleic acids, and lipids. Spirulina stimulates beneficial flora like lactobacillus and bifidobacteria in your digestive tract to promote healthy digestion and proper bowel function. It acts as a natural cleanser by eliminating mercury and other deadly toxins commonly ingested by the body. Thus, spirulina has countless uses as a supplement for maintaining good health and for preventing diseases.

 

Our rediscovery and interest in algae, the original life form, represents a return to the origins of life to understand and heal our planet.

 

Athletes love spirulina because it increases stamina and immunity levels and its high 60 % protein content helps build muscle mass. Besides being an all-around disease fighter, regular intake of spirulina also reduces the bad cholesterol LDL in the body, lowers blood pressure and thereby helps prevent the onset of cardiovascular diseases.

No toxicity has ever been found according to published scientific studies over the past thirty years. With a pedigree like that, is it any wonder this nutritional powerhouse has now been rediscovered as the superfood supplement of the century?

 

How much is good for you? Spirulina is a potent concentrate and it is advised to ease into it gradually in order to get your body adjusted to the mega dose of nutrients and vitamins.  Start with a 1-teaspoon serving (approximately 1 gram) and gradually increase it to the recommended 5 grams.  A typical serving of spirulina packs a wallop of vitamins, including the elusive B12, many absorbable minerals, iron that is easily assimilated by the body, carotenoids, phytonutrients and antioxidants.  The B12 in particular is very important for vegetarians and vegans as its only source is typically from red meat. Pure spirulina contains no additives.

Incidentally, this 1-teaspoon serving has the nutritional equivalent of consuming 1 kg vegetables and fruits, 1 glass of milk and 3 eggs. All that without the cholesterol.

On the downside, it must be observed that spirulina is not advisable for people with iodine, seafood or seaweed allergies, those with hyperparathyroidism and patients currently experiencing high fever.

It is not surprising that as early as the 1970’s, the United Nations hailed spirulina as one of the solutions to global malnutrition and a prime food supplement for undernourished children.  Consequently algae pioneers have dreamed for decades of harvesting spirulina as a way to feed the millions of hungry people in the world while at the same time supporting a healthy local economy.

 

Buyer Beware – Spirulina is sold worldwide by big manufacturers and conglomerates whose main drive is profits.  Consequently the spirulina you buy may not always have the quality and the nutrient content you expect and contain 100% pure unadulterated spirulina. Examine the labels.  A clear give-away is the recommended dosage: the higher the dosage, the more spirulina has been mixed or blended with other, mainly empty and sometimes contaminated nutrients.  Pure, concentrated spirulina should be consumed sparingly. With a normal healthy diet, one teaspoon per day is enough to supplement your nutrition needs. On restricted diets such as those of vegetarians and vegans, you can safely take in up to 5 grams per day.

Loik is quick to add that the benefits of spirulina also extend to our environment on a big scale. In a time when global warming and climate change effects are of global concern, it is good to know that very little water is needed to produce 1 kg of spirulina; the only loss is through evaporation. Growing spirulina uses 1/3 the amount of water needed to grow soybeans and only 1/50th of the water needed for beef protein. Spirulina protein needs 20 times less land than soybeans and 200 times less than is required for beef production. Spirulina can help in the struggle with global warming as it fixes carbon and produces oxygen.

In addition, the consumption of spirulina can reduce intensive animal farming which is a major contributor to global environmental degradation, through the need to grow feed (often by intensive methods using excessive fertiliser and pesticides), pollution of water, soil and air by agrochemicals and manure waste, and use of limited resources (water, energy). Finally, growing spirulina also requires very little land surface area with the further advantage that the land can be marginal, unusable and non-fertile.

 

Spirulina Products – The Bali Spirulina Farms can produce up to 20 kilos per day of wet spirulina which translates into 3 kg of dried spirulina per day. This is not a big volume production. Therefore this limited quantity, packaged in 100g bags,  is only sold to specialty shops like Bali Buda, Sharman Organic and vegetarian/raw food restaurants like Earth Café, Seeds of Life, Sayuri’s and Bali Catering. The powdered spirulina is plain; the crunchies are either plain or spicy, to which chilies and garam masala are added. Fresh spirulina -ie the compacted harvested mass prior to drying and processing- is only available directly from the Kedungu farm.  It is especially delicious served as a spread or tapenade with just a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

As a committed vegan, environmentalist and health practitioner, Loik is very proud of his enterprise and gladly invites people to visit the farm where he will be happy to give you a tour of this very inspiring project. In the meantime check it out at www.balispirulina.com or the Spirulina FaceBook page.

The Bali Spirulina Farm is at Jl Pantai Kedungu nr. 13, Desa Belalang in Tabanan Regency, a few kilometres north of Tanah Lot. Tel:  08123853990

Photos courtesy of Spirulina Farm

Copyright  2017 Bali Advertiser

You can read all past articles of

BA Feature Article at www.BaliAdvertiser.biz