Naturally blue and rumored to be packed with health benefits, blue-green algae is making a big comeback. It’s been gathered from alkaline lakes near volcanoes since ancient times by the Aztecs and Central-Africans, who baked it into tortillas and cakes. Today, the algae (which is known as spirulina) is also grown, harvested, and treated in specially-designated areas such as off the coast of Kona in Hawaii, which has the perfect environment. Why are people going crazy for what is essentially pond scum?
One of the reasons spirulina is getting so much attention is because of its color. It has a naturally vibrant blue hue thanks to C-Phycocyanin, a protein. This blue could also serve as a starting point for other colors, like green and lavender. Best of all, it has a very mild flavor that can be easily masked. In 2013, the FDA approved the use of spirulina as a color additive in candy, gum, and other foods. Manufacturers can now use it instead of the artificial Blue #1 and appeal to consumers concerned about synthetic ingredients and additives.
Those same consumers are also excited about the possible health benefits of spirulina. The science is limited, but the algae could help with conditions such as:
- Hepatitis C
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Menopause symptoms
- Seasonal allergies
You’ll see spirulina making appearances at stores selling “health products, like Jamba Juice and Booster Juice, a Canadian juice bar. You can also find spirulina supplements, but you should be careful. Some brands contain toxic levels of heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, and lead, as well as microcystins, which are incredibly harmful to the liver. Microcystins may be present in spirulina because the algae grows in freshwater and producers may not employ adequate contamination standards. As with any supplement, be sure to do your research and get the highest-quality possible.