Experts are calling this ‘the food of the future’

Some call them magic. Others swear by their potential. When it comes to exotic superfoods like spirulina, we get caught up in the alluring packaging, brand messaging, and occasionally outlandish health claims. Just look at the massive shifts occurring in the health food industry and think about the dozens of “superfoods” we are pressured to consume like acai, maca, ashwagandha, lions mane, yerba mate- the list is endless.

Despite the hype, spirulina is one of the few foods I have found that appears to actually back most of its claims. Spirulina even won “the best natural food” award in West Germany’s International Food Expo. From the amazing health benefits to typical consumption options, if you’re interested in trying spirulina, here’s everything you need to know.

What Is Spirulina Anyways?

“This amazing algae is a microscopic form of life that does not have the usual tough cell walls normally found in plant life. This means that it’s extremely easy to digest making all the nutritional compounds highly absorbable into your body.”

Let’s start with the basics. Spirulina is a consumable algae under the “blue-green algae” umbrella. It grows naturally in oceans and salty lakes in subtropical climates and is then farmed by manufacturers who cultivate spirulina in contained pools. According to Beyond Coffee, A Sustainable Guide to Nootropics, Adaptogens, and Mushrooms, “Spirulina is thought to be rich in B-vitamins, protein, iron, and has been employed for a variety of conditions including cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, ADHD, PMS, stress, depression, anxiety, and more.”

Spirulina has been called “the most nutrient-dense food on the planet” for good reason. Just a single tablespoon is packed with:

  • Protein
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • Copper
  • Iron

While research is somewhat limited on spirulina, studies have shown promising results. As stated by Spirulina in Clinical Practice: Evidence Based Human Applications, “Multiple studies investigating the efficacy and the potential clinical applications of Spirulina in treating several diseases have been performed and a few randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews suggest that this algae may improve several symptoms and may even have an anticancer, antiviral and antiallergic effects.”

The bottom line is that spirulina boasts a variety of health benefits and may even lend itself to other medicinal purposes as further studies are conducted.

The “Superfood Of The Future” Is Technically Pond Scum

You might be wondering why people get so excited about a food that is also labeled as “pond scum”. Well, it’s because spirulina has the potential to be a sustainable source of protein to feed the growing global population and maybe the most nutritious food that can withstand space exploration.

Spirulina originally rose to prominence after it was successfully used by NASA for astronauts on space missions. In recent years, algae-based foods, products, and crops have been soaring in popularity with backings from wellness experts. But this obsession with algae isn’t new territory.

Whenever changing climates and environmental anxieties are brought to the forefront of social conversations, we often turn to algae for answers. Last year, it was algae and skincare. In 2018 it was algae and food. Before that, algae has been used in fertilizers and for fuel.

While some of the other algae trends haven’t been as successful, the nutritional value is what keeps us coming back for more. I recently contacted the team at ENERGYBits, a company that makes nutrition tablets purely from algae. Here’s what Catharine Arnston, Founder and CEO of ENERGYBits, had to say:

“Whether you are an ultra-runner, a mom, or executive, once you fuel your body and brain with algae, you’ll see why it’s a super fuel, not just a superfood.”

While most people wouldn’t think of using spirulina for sustained energy, this claim actually has merit. Spirulina increases healthy lactobacillus in the intestine, enabling the production of Vitamin B6 that also helps in energy release. Studies have even suggested that spirulina can enhance athletic performance by improving endurance.

How To Consume Spirulina

If you’re a health-curious shopper like myself, I’m sure you are constantly looking out for new products and supplements to try before they turn mainstream and overpriced.

I originally became interested in spirulina several years ago after ordering a “Blue Majik” smoothie at a local Cafe in Washington DC. For anyone unfamiliar, Blue Majik is a proprietary extract of spirulina that has a stunning blue pigment. You have probably seen it unknowingly on Instagram or mixed into other products before. Ever since then, I have been hooked on algae products and immediately bought spirulina powder in a nearby store.

Blue Majik from Toastique: Blue Majik / Banana / Pineapple / Mango / Almond Milk
If you aren’t used to it, spirulina may be an acquired taste. It’s not in any way negative or bitter, just unique. As described by chef Fernando Aciar of Feel Food in NYC, “Spirulina is galactic: funky, savory, and loaded with protein”.

It tastes (and smells) a lot like raw seaweed with an earthy tone, but when mixed with other foods, adds just a hint of flavor. You can buy spirulina commercially as a pill or powder. I have also seen it in “superfood” packs for smoothies.

While you can mix spirulina straight into water or juice, be aware that it will turn your beverage to a dark greenish/black and can leave blue-green clumps at the bottom of your glass. This is why I recommend putting it into a smoothie or protein shake. My favorite recipe right now is a tablespoon of spirulina, vanilla protein powder, one banana, one avocado, and unsweetened almond milk. I find this combination neutralizes spirulinas flavor and the sweetness of bananas for a balanced kick.

If you don’t want to purchase an entire bottle of spirulina, consider something like ENERGYBits spirulina tablets or GTS’s “Multi-Green Kombucha”, which includes a blend of Blue-Green Algae, Spirulina, and Chlorella.

“Algae tablets may be our last shot at being properly nourished. Nutrient-dense, toxin-free, plant-based, safe and sustainable. No cooking either. What’s not to love?”- Catharine Arnston

Final Thoughts

With anything related to health and nutrition, it’s always important to consult with a medical professional before making drastic changes to your diet.

Yes, spirulina has plenty of amazing benefits and may very well be the future of food on Earth or in space. But a spoonful of spirulina in the morning won’t do you much good if you’re running on a Big Mac and a Coke. The key is always balance.

This article originally appeared on Medium.