Spirulina, a seaweed with a thousand virtues ?

Some speak of it as a remedy to eradicate hunger in the world. Others like a superfood that is full of nutritional benefits. The truth is often between the two.

According to Unesco, “it is the ideal and most complete food of tomorrow”. For the World Health Organization, “this is the best food for humanity in the 21st century”. But what is this magic product with such high added value? Spirulina is a micro-algae that appeared on our planet more than three billion years ago. It is known that it was already consumed daily by the Incas. And for a very long time also by certain peoples of the region of Kanem, in Africa, who harvest it in Lake Chad, where it grows naturally, as in all hot and nutrient-rich waters of the tropical and semi-tropical zones. Where brightness is important.

Why today such a craze around spirulina? Because it is one of the very few products to check all the boxes of our daily nutritional needs. Both rich in complete plant proteins (55 to 70% of its dry weight), amino acids and essential omega-6 fatty acids, minerals, trace elements and vitamins. The fact that it also contains three times as much protein as beef and twice as much as soy makes it a shocking argument for vegetarians. Or those who are in spite of themselves, as in Madagascar, where some schools use blue-green algae to compensate for deficiencies in animal protein in children. Spirulina, on the other hand, has another important advantage: that of being much less water-intensive than any other source of protein. This, in turn, would considerably reduce the consumption of fresh water required for the cultivation of fodder plants and the hydration of livestock. Moreover, it does not require pesticides, which has positive effects on the conservation of biodiversity. Finally, in tablets, granules, powder or flakes, it requires neither cooking nor cooking, which obviously avoids any pollution.

Will Spirulina save humanity from starvation? Many research labs around the world are interested in it. In Toulouse, a biotechnology start-up, Alg & You, winner of the 2016 Global Innovation Competition, will launch this autumn a “phytotière” called “Bloom”, a kind of microplankton yogurt maker intended for domestic use. This will allow individuals to grow, harvest and taste fresh spirulina at home.

Spirulina-based drinks have a small effect, both tonic and aesthetic, thanks in particular to their naturally blue-green color, linked to the pigment (phycocyanin) which it contains.

Next year, another larger phytotière designed for professionals (market gardeners, farmers, aquaculturists) should also be marketed. Once produced, it will be necessary to question how to consume this small blue algae of which one generally agrees to find the taste … disconcerting, in the natural state. Without going so far as to integrate it into gnocchi, as Alain Ducasse, head of the Space Agency of the European Space Agency, has done on an experimental basis, Spirulina is still looking for a little place, if not for haute gastronomy , at least in the kitchen, on a daily basis . Certainly, for raising mixed salads, risottos or soups. Or to twist guacamoles, hummus or even smoothies for dessert, but its use, outside the “vegano-compatible” circuits is still timid.

Spirulina drinks, on the other hand, have a small effect, both tonic and aesthetic, thanks in particular to their naturally blue-green color, linked to the pigment (phycocyanin) that it contains. The Cidrerie Nicol, in Morbihan, launched a few years ago the Bloo Tonic, a drink sparkling water, mixed with fresh spirulina (4%) produced in sea water and fragrant with natural flavors of fruits Woodland. In bottles of 25 cl, it is marketed in dietary or organic stores and was even sold for a time at the Colette concept store in Paris (213, rue Saint-Honoré, I). Meurice Hotel will launch three spirulina-based cocktails: Le Meurice Tonic (fresh mixed pineapple and spirulina), Spiru-Pina (fresh pineapple juice, coconut cream , crème fraîche, spirulina) or El Sombrero (white tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, spirulina). These three creations by chef bartender William Oliveri will be enjoyed in the cozy atmosphere of Bar 228 (228 rue de Rivoli, Paris Ier). A portion of the profits (3 euros on the price of the cocktail at 25 euros) will be donated to the association Antenna France which fights malnutrition in the world by producing and distributing spirulina. There is no harm in doing good.

Little scientific evidence on its benefits

To be precise, spirulina is not an alga but a microorganism (Cyanobacterium), “one of the few to be edible,” noted Professors Cynober and Fricker in their book (Odile jacob) on dietary supplements. If the Internet networks are full of allegations all the more enticing than the others, doctors cool a little the ardor by recalling the lack of scientific evidence with the exception of cholesterol, for which studies show profits. As for vegetarians who swear by spirulina to replace animal proteins, it risks “to aggravate vitamin B12 deficiencies” alert doctors. That contained in spirulina is indeed inactive in man. They therefore advocate complementation.