Spirulina is a blue-green algae (Arthrospira platensis – “AR-thre-svera pla-TEN-sis”) that flourishes in unpolluted ponds, lakes, and rivers, especially in warmer, tropical climates. First thought to be a plant, spirulina later came to be recognized as bacteria. It’s called spirulina because of its spiralling, spring-like shape.
The alga is similar to seaweeds like dulse and kelp, and to chlorella, but it’s easier to digest. It’s a “complete protein,” meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids we need.
Spirulina’s most striking characteristic is its phycocyanin (fi-co-CY-a-nin) (from the Greek phyco, meaning algae, and cyanin, meaning blue-green). Phycocyanin is an antioxidant, and a pigment, which is extracted from spirulina to make the powder called blue spirulina.
In addition to its fame as a superfood, spirulina is being seriously studied as one solution to food insecurity around the globe because it can be cultivated to provide protein far less expensively than livestock. In 1974, the World Food Conference declared spirulina to be one of the top foods of the future.
Today, spirulina is highly recommended for vegans, as a good source for protein and iron. And a great many people will notice overall improvement in their mental and physical health when they consume spirulina regularly.
And yes, spirulina may be better known to you as “pond scum,” but maybe it’s time to re-vision your perception of this profoundly nutritious food source.
Spirulina can be consumed as a whole food or as a dietary supplement. It’s also available in tablet, flake, or powder form. If you can get it fresh – that’s the best way to consume it.
What’s the difference between spirulina and chlorella?
These two species of algae are similar, and they are both considered to be superfoods, but they differ markedly in some ways.
Spirulina is spiral shaped and chlorella is sphere shaped. The multi-celled spirulina can grow very large, compared to the single-celled chlorella.
Spirulina is blue green in colour and chlorella is green.
Chlorella’s cell wall is hard and not digestible, making processing necessary before eating. Spirulina doesn’t have this hard wall, so it can be immediately consumed, without processing.
Both of these algae provide numerous health benefits, though spirulina offers more protein and iron.