In the era of Instagram, how food looks is sometimes more important than how it tastes. Check out the image at left, which shows the colorful Unicorn Latte served at The End Brooklyn cafe in Williamsburg.
The End Brooklyn is famous for using raw juices, superfoods, herbs, roots, and spices to create colorful and nutritious concoctions like the Unicorn Latte.
Unlike Starbucks’ sugary knock-off (which earned a lawsuit from The End Brooklyn), the original Unicorn Latte gets its color from blue-green algae AKA “spirulina.” According to The End Brooklyn’s website, the Unicorn Latte is designed to enhance focus, fight inflammation, guide intuition, and balance mood.
Where does spirulina come from?
Spirulina or “blue-green algae” is a biomass of cyanobacteria that grows in mineral-rich alkaline lakes, often near volcanoes. Spirulina can be found on every continent, but some of the biggest concentrations are found in Lake Chad in Central Africa, Lake Texcoco in Mexico, and the Great Rift Valley in East Africa.
The scientific name for spirulina is Arthrospira Plantensis. If you look at it under a microscope, spirulina looks like a bunch of tiny springs or coils. Unlike its cousin chlorella (another algae superfood), the cell walls of the spirulina organism contain no cellulose – making it easy for the body to digest.
Biologically speaking, spirulina is one of the oldest life forms on the planet. Research suggests spirulina was a staple for the Aztecs. Hernando Cortes even mentions it in his book Conquest of Mexico:
“They make it into cakes like bricks, which they sell, not only in the market but carry it to others outside the city, and far off. They eat this as we eat cheese, and it has rather a salty taste, which is delicious with chilmolli.”
Spirulina is consumed in at least 77 countries. In the US, it is advertised as a “superfood.”
What is the nutritional content of spirulina?
Spirulina is one of the most nutrient-rich whole foods on the planet. It is one of the few plants that contains every amino acid your body needs but can’t produce on its own.
Spirulina is also a great source of magnesium, calcium, iron, antioxidants, and vitamins A, E and K. The recommended daily intake for adults is 1-5 grams.
Compared to other health foods, spirulina has:
- 280% more antioxidants than blueberries
- 3,900% more iron than spinach
- 2,800% more beta-carotene than carrots
When consumed on a regular basis, spirulina is believed to:
- Help fight allergies
- Reduce inflammation
- Boost immunity
- Reduce fatigue
- Suppress appetite and speed weight loss
- Improve digestion
- Balance pH levels
- Lower cholesterol and blood pressure
- Eliminate candida (the fungus that causes yeast infections)
Spirulina is available in flake, tablet, and powder form. It is most commonly used to enhance the nutritional content of fruit juices and smoothies, but can also be added to yogurt, soups, salads, pasta, and sushi. Spirulina has even been incorporated into alcoholic beverages.
Scientists are currently studying spirulina to learn how it could be used to fight cancer, heal radiation exposure, and treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.
The United Nations World Food Conference in 1974 called spirulina “the best food for the future,” and NASA is currently looking into how spirulina could be used as a dietary supplement for astronauts.
Recent studies suggest spirulina could have positive effects for people suffering from malnutrition, diabetes, allergic rhinitis (sinus issues), and chronic arsenic poisoning.
How can I use spirulina at home?
You can replicate this gorgeous smoothie with just six ingredients (plus a blender). Here’s what you need:
- 2 tsp spirulina powder
- 2 bananas (1 frozen, 1 fresh)
- 1 scoop of your favorite protein (we used vanilla)
- 3/4 cup almond or coconut milk
Blend the frozen banana, spirulina, milk, and protein until smooth. Top with blackberries, fresh banana slices, and granola.
Super Blue Pudding
If you’re looking for a sweet treat the kids will enjoy, try this colorful spin on overnight oats that’s perfect for breakfast or dessert. Here’s what you need:
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 1/2 cup chia seeds
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1 tsp blue spirulina
Combine ingredients in a bowl or jar, cover, and leave in the fridge overnight. Add your favorite toppings and enjoy (we recommend fresh blueberries, crushed pistachios, and chocolate chips).
Are there any risks in eating spirulina?
Algae tend to absorb toxins from the environment, so it’s very important that you make sure the brand you purchase is a pure strain from a clean source. Consuming contaminated spirulina can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, weakness, thirst, liver damage, stomach pain, and even death.
To be on the safe side, avoid brands from Japan and China and any strains grown in “natural” or “wild” lakes.