Spirulina

The history of spirulina

In 1939, a pharmacist from Bordeaux, the Professor Creac'h found dried spirulina wafers in a market in Massakong (Chad). In 1940, the phycologist Dangeard described this algae in the Linnean Society of Bordeaux’s news bulletin.

In the fifties, Max Yves Brandily, an anthropologist and filmmaker working in the Kanem region (Chad), wrote: "For decades, a primitive tribe of Chad has been harvesting food of the year 2000."

However, this prophetic vision had no impact at the time.

In the sixties, John Leonard, a botanist who was part of the Belgian expedition to the Sahara, gave a dried green wafer sample acquired in a market at Fort Lamy (Chad) to Pierre Compere, another botanist, who identified the substance in question as Spirulina platensis. From there, things begin to accelerate.

While African spirulina was being (re)discovered, in Mexico, Sosa Texcoco, a company that manufactured products out of soda, was starting to encounter unexpected difficulties: a tiny algae of unknown origin was colonizing the peripheral areas of its evaporator system.

Former Senator H. Durand- Chastel, who was a former director of the company, undertook research to identify the cause of what was considered to be a nuisance to their production system. Luckily, the biologist in charge of the research was familiar with Pierre Compere’s work on the green foods of the Kanembous in Chad. He was able to make the connection between the African seaweed and the unwanted microorganism that was under research. It was indeed spirulina, spirulina geitleri, a variety close to Spirulina platensis.

Since when had this little algae unbeknownst to all, been hibernating underwater in Lake Texcoco ?

By going back through some of the records of the Spanish conquests describing the life of the Aztecs, some hints on the existence of spirulina can be found though remained obscure for a long time. López de Gómara, a sixteenth century columnist was the first to mention the use of spirulina as food by the Aztecs: "During certain times of the year, they collect a sort of puree that forms on the surface of Mexico’s lakes using very fine mesh nets; it thickens and is neither plant nor earth, but more like mud. There is a large quantity of it and a lot of it is collected. They grind it into the ground, similar to how they make salt. It thickens and dries. Cakes that look like wafers are sold not only at the local market but far outside of the city as well. This product is eaten like cheese. It has a pleasant salty flavour.”

 

Named tecuitlatl by the Aztecs, this algae was the staple food of "fish runners", who were responsible for providing the emperor with fresh seafood from the sea several hundred kilometres away. The Aztecs used it until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, who severely restricted its consumption. For five centuries, we have ignored the existence of this godsend. Thus, the Aztecs and in all probability the Toltecs before them harvested spirulina as a food source, just like the Kanembous from Lake Chad.

Today, millions of people around the world eat spirulina that is cultivated using artisanal and local methods or industrially. Considering the current state of our planet, famine and the "junk food" culture, spirulina seems to be a promising solution to many of the malnutrition and undernourishment problems. As Hippocrates says: "Let food be thy medicine" ...so let’s apply this advice! In other words, if spirulina is a food source for you, what you are eating will become your medicine.

 

In the early 60s, the microbiologist Hiroshi Nakamura and Dr. Christopher Hills were the pioneers of research on spirulina.

1973 Dr. Ripley D. Fox begins to grow spirulina in India.

1974 The California company Proteus began experimental farming of spirulina.

1978 The Japanese company Dai Nippon Ink & Chemicals started growing spirulina in Thailand.

1982 The company Earthrise built the first spirulina farm in the California desert.

1985 The North - American company Cyanotech begin spirulina production in Hawaii.

The demand for spirulina has since increased and spirulina farms are emerging all over the world: India, Vietnam, Korea, China, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Spain and France.

Experiments and research are underway in a number of countries, and the publication of research papers and studies have multiplied over the past 20 years, highlighting the many nutritional and therapeutic benefits of spirulina algae. Finally, it has also become a source of studies and tests for use in space stations.