Give a microscopic vegetable the right conditions of sunshine and water, and you can home-farm what some say is the world’s most nutritious food: spirulina.
Spirulina is a microscopic,spiral-shaped micro-algae that grows in both sweet or salt-water bodies. It’s a complete source of protein, containing every essential amino acid to build healthy muscle and tissue.
Spirulina is also rich in essential fatty acids, which protect and promote cardiovascular and brain functions. Protein, vitamins, minerals, micro elements – the tiny green water weed seems to have everything. For those who’d like to know more, this study goes fully into the properties of this natural superfood.
In 1974, the United Nations world food conference announced that Spirulina was the ideal food for underdeveloped nations struggling to feed millions of undernourished people. We have posted about the optimistic picture the UN Food and Agriculture Organization painted after investigating spirulina farms in Chad.
It was thought that spirulina could only grow in large bodies of water, such as lakes. People in Mexico and Sub Saharan Africa have done so, for centuries. And although in Kibbutz Ein Shemer’s greenhouse, Arab and Jewish teenagers are developing techniques to mass-farm the healthful algae, most people still have to buy dried spirulina compressed into tablets.
But a young Israeli has designed a grow-it-yourself kit that anyone with a sunny window can use to grow fresh, vibrant spirulina.
We interviewed Tom Vered to find out more.
What made you decide to grow spirulina yourself?
I was influenced by the social protests in Israel two years ago, where people set up tents in parks. I wanted to live very simply for a while, get to know other ways to live. So I packed my tent and moved to the Adamama permaculture farm in the Negev.
Adamama has many innovative agricultural methods. One was growing spirulina, in small pools, for their own needs. After a few months, I had to go back to my university studies – it was my last year. My specialty is product design for the environment and special needs people.
When I left Adamama, I took a little spirulina with me and started doing online research, contacting growers around the world and asking for advice. I was looking for other industrial models. After a year of research, as my final university project, I developed a way of growing spirulina at home, in an aquarium.
How much spirulina does an adult or child need every day?
A daily teaspoon of fresh Spirulina a day is enough. Different people have different needs so some may need more, but, for most people, one teaspoon is enough. I’m vegan, that’s why it was important for me to find a vitamin supplement.
Vegans, vegetarians, and pregnant women can benefit from it. Obviously, you have to eat other foods too, not just depend on spirulina!
Is it a lot of work to grow spirulina?
Spirulina grows very quickly. If you harvest a teaspoon from your home-grown culture, it will have reproduced itself by the next day. With a 20-liter fish tank that you put in a window, it will supply 1-2 people. It’s a very small farm that supplies your super-food. Maintaining it takes only a few minutes every day.
Does growing spirulina at home require special equipment?
Besides the live spirulina, you do need nutrients to add to the water and a few small devices like a water pump and pH meter. An aquarium is ideal, but you can use a recycled mineral water tank. Below is a photo of two recycled mineral water tanks strapped to balcony railings of an apartment, acting as spirulina farms.
Vered gives talks on spirulina and how to grow it. Contact him through his website to learn more.
So how do you actually eat spirulina?
You can eat spirulina in a variety of ways: smoothies, salads, or spreads, or as an addition to cold drinks. Do not heat or cook the Spirulina or it will lose some of its nutritious value. It is best eaten shortly after removing from water (up to half an hour). You can store it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours or freeze it for several months.
Spirulina Green Juice Recipe
2 medium sized apples
1 small lemon or lime
1 teaspoon fresh spirulina
Juice the cucumber, apples and lemon. Add the juices to the spirulina. Mix well or blend in a blender, and drink immediately.
More healthy foods from local sources:
All photos courtesy of Tom Vered via Flickr.