Spirulina For Nutrition
History of Spriulina Use
Spirulina: From Greenish-Blue to Greenbacks
If you’re a foreign-substance fearing 21st century American, and see a greenish-blue substance growing in your bathtub, the odds are good that you’ll take pains to eradicate it.
If, on the other hand, you’re one of the 21st century Americans environmentally conscious enough be a defender of biodiversity, and believe that greenish-blue substances appear in damp places because Mother Nature has a job for them to do, you’re much closer in sprit to the ancient Aztecs of Mexico or the ancient Kanembu people in the Lake Chad region of Africa than you are to the shareholders of Proctor & Gamble. Why?
Because the latest big thing in 21st century nutritional supplements is not so big after all; it’s actually a microorganism which blooms, among other places, on the surface of Mexico’s Lake Texcoco in Mexico and Lake Chad, and has been harvested, dried, and eaten by the peoples of those areas for centuries. What is it?
It’s spirulina, and if Spanish explorers are to be believed, it was regularly featured at the dinner tables of the Aztecs around Lake Texcoco when Hernando Cortez and his Conquistadors discovered them in 1519. The Aztecs, apparently, had their own ideas about the nature of the algae, referring to it as tecuitlatl, or “the stone’s excrement.”
The Kenembus of Lake Chad were also discovered, by Pierre Dangeard in 1940, harvesting blue green algae and drying it into cakes they called dihe. A French phycologist–which is what some one who really loves algae, and works very hard, gets to be–Professor Dangeard was also excited to report that the algae was growing on the lakes of Eastern Africa’s Rift Valley, and sustaining their huge flocks of flamingos.
Professor Dangeard’s excitement fell on deaf ears, however, and it was not until twenty-five years later, in 1964, that Belgian botanist Jean Leonard picked up the torch. Participating in an expedition to Lake Chad, he noticed that the open air village markets in the area were offering blue-greenish cakes for sale. He connected the blue green substances in the cakes with the same Lake Chad algae of which Professor Dangeard had written a quarter of a century before..
And in one of those coincidences which so often accompanies scientific breakthroughs, while Jean Leonard was re-discovering spirulina at Lake Chad, French scientists were researching it at Lake Texcoco. The French liked what their research told them about the nutritional potential of spirulina, and race to commercialize it had begun.
The initial Spirulina processing plant, belonging to the French and named Sosa Texcoco, opened in 1969. It had the spirulina market to itself until 19766, when the Japan’s industrial giant Dainippon Ink and Chemicals opened a spirulina production facility in Thailand. Next were Microbio in California and Cyanotech in Hawaii.
It took the French only five years to open the first modern Spirulina processing plant, named Sosa Texcoco, at the lake. Seven years later, Japan’s Dainippon Ink and Chemicals opened its own Spirulina plant in Thailand, followed by Microbio’s California factory and Cyanotech’s in Hawaii.
The Sosa Texcoco plant suffered a fatal blow when the United States declared its spirulina contaminated, and stopped production in the 1980s. But worldwide demand for the little microorganisms has surged since then, and today spirulina continues to be commercially grown in the US, China, India, and Thailand.