Spirulina is a blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, that grows rapidly through photosynthesis and converts greenhouse gases into nutrition, protein, and oxygen. This single celled organism grows in highly alkaline water and only occurs naturally in a few places on the planet. Water that is constantly between 30 – 39 degrees Celsius, that receives direct and intense sunlight, and with high alkalinity is rare, and it is because of its rarity that naturally occurring Spirulina is limited to a few bodies of water globally. Because of its unique habitat preference, Spirulina can be cultivated in an environment that is free from harmful contaminate algae and bacteria that thrive in more neutral water with lower pH.
Spirulina has been a part of human diets for thousands of years, but because it occurred naturally in so few places, it didn’t become a part of the modern western diet except as a nutritional supplement, and only in the last 40 years. Inhabitants near lake Chad and ancient Aztecs both consumed Spirulina as a significant source of nutrition and protein, and some communities in Africa have even been reported to have survived times of famine on a diet consisting purely of Spirulina.
The extraordinary nutritional value of Spirulina was rediscovered in 1940 by the botanist Pierre Dangeard. Dangeard’s rediscovered went unnoticed for 25 years until Jean Leonard furthered Dangeard’s work. In 1967, two years after Leonard’s observations, the International Association of Applied Microbiology declared Spirulina “‘a wonderful future food source.’”
Since Spirulina’s rediscovery, a better understanding of its immense nutritional benefits and the potential applications as a food source has been realized. Today companies like EnerGaia are focusing on producing Spirulina on a commercial scale for human consumption as well as animal and fish feed. Governments and NGOs are working with lesser developed communities to combat malnutrition by introducing Spirulina farms for local consumption.
The nutritional profile is so complete that NASA and the European Space Agency are exploring the use of Spirulina as a primary food source for astronauts and sustaining long term life in space.