Spirulina Cultivation

A tip from a reader led the magazine to make this inquiry into spirulina cultivation.

  • 068 spirulina cultivation - growing tank
    The extreme alkalinity of the water used in spirulina cultivation caused the paint to peel away from the sides of this tank.
  • 068 spirulina cultivation - lab aquarium
    Texas researchers first grew spirulina in closed laboratory aquariums under artificial lights. 
  • 068 spirulina cultivation - outdoor trough
    Early experiments in spirulina cultivation employed outdoor tanks and a swimming pool pump to aerate the water. The pump tended to chew up the plants.
  • 068 spirulina cultivation - small pile
    After harvesting and drying, spirulina is ready for consumption in this dark, granular form.

  • 068 spirulina cultivation - growing tank
  • 068 spirulina cultivation - lab aquarium
  • 068 spirulina cultivation - outdoor trough
  • 068 spirulina cultivation - small pile

The idea of eating seaweed has—for a long time now—been included among the standard jokes referring to natural food "fanatics" who'll consume almost anything (no matter how unpalatable it may be) in pursuit of glowing health.

Recent developments, however, indicate that the jest may soon turn on its tellers! The fact is that algae could well become an increasingly familiar part of everyone's diet, as the soaring costs of producing and transporting "traditional" foodstuffs force people to look for alternative sources of nutrition. Among the many "future foods" now under investigation, single-celled marine plants stand out as potential sources of protein that are both easy and inexpensive to cultivate, highly productive, and amazingly nutritious.

Scientists began to investigate the notion of using algae as food in the 1950's and 60's, but most early research involved only the green varieties Chlorella and Scenedesmus. Unfortunately, such types presented problems in the areas of growth, harvesting, and digestibility, so their culture was gradually abandoned in favor of another, less troublesome species.

That variety—the probable algal superstar of the 80's—is Spirulina platensis, blue-green algae which have long been part of the diets of human beings. (The microscopic plants were eaten by the Aztecs in pre-Columbian Mexico and are consumed today by healthy Africans living on the shores of Lake Chad.) Even though Spirulina —which is composed of strings of tiny single cells, attached end-to-end to form a spiral shape—is especially well adapted to natural alkaline lakes in arid climates, its growth is no longer limited to such areas. In fact, research teams in several parts of the world are now using closed pond systems for spirulina cultivation, often on marginal land that would be totally unsuitable for most kinds of conventional agriculture.

A Nutritional Gold Mine

According to many theories, the bluegreen algae were among the first forms of plant life to appear on the earth some billions of years ago. They're about the simplest to produce, most nutritious food source we could ever hope to find. Among the many varieties of such primitive plants, Spirulina scores incredibly high on a nutritional scale: It's rich in vitamins A and E, and the B-complex (in fact, this species is the highest nonanimal source of B-12, a vitamin that's often difficult to obtain in a vegetarian diet), and has an impressive array of trace minerals.

Spirulina is also chock-full of protein, containing a whopping 65-70% by dry weight (as compared to the approximately 35% protein content of soybeans and 45% of brewer's yeast). Furthermore, the algae provide complete protein, containing all of the eight essential amino acids that the body cannot manufacture.

Margaret Bhadungzong
1/8/2013 3:35:48 AM

The Boonsom Sprulina Farm in Mae Wang, Chiang Mai, northern Thailand has been producing fine quality spirulina since the late 1980's. We welcome all visitors to learn more about this wonderful food product. Margaret Bhadungzong

4/6/2010 3:17:00 AM

I have recently started to use the herb Hippophaes after I have used Spirulina for quite some time. I don't see any major differences but they say that Hippophaes is stronger. I am using the following product: http://www.superfoods.gr/EN/submenu.php?cat=2

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