Blue green algae – a.k.a. Spirulina and Blue Majik – is the superfood turning your Instagram feed blue
If you thought kale was a bitter superfood to swallow, wait until you choke down blue green algae.
The cyanobacteria collected from the surface of freshwater lakes and ponds – also known as spirulina – is turning up in blue drinks, ice cream, lattes and M&Ms, as holistic experts and plant-based nutritionists rave about its health benefits. Kate Middleton reportedly sips it in her smoothies.
The largest concentrations are found on Lake Texcoco in Mexico and Lake Chad in Central Africa, although algae farms have popped up on America’s west coast, as well. It’s flash-dried before being sold as a powder or in pill form for $20-$35 a pound from Walmart to Amazon to Walmart.
“It’s really a magical ingredient,” Madi Murphy, cofounder of hip Williamsburg cafe The End, told Moneyish. Her coffee shop’s popular unicorn latte uses a spirulina extract called Blue Majik harvested from Oregon’s Klamath Lake to give the drink its whimsical blue hue.
Murphy became “low-key obsessed” with spirulina while studying at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. It not only gave her the energy boost of coffee without the jittery side effects, but she said it gifted her mental clarity and stoked her creativity.
The microalgae has been munched for centuries, from the South American Aztecs to west-central Africa, and contains high amounts of calcium, niacin, potassium, B vitamins, iron and essential amino acids. Research suggests it reduces inflammation, heart and liver disease. NASA has considered using it for its space program, noting that spirulina packs more iron than spinach, more beta carotene than carrots and more chlorophyll than wheat grass.
And the wellness-obsessed are gobbling up supplements like spirulina with their miraculous claims. The global dietary supplements market is expected to reach $278.02 billion by 2024, and in 2015 alone, Americans spent $35 billion on them.
Good morning! Breakfast is served 😍Blue Majik Ice Cream (AKA Mermaid Food) with toasted blueberries? Yes please! 🙋🍨 @leahlaniskincare ・ 📸 by Liz Smithers @elikeaton ・ ・ ・ #bluemajik #plantbased #nutrition #healthyliving #healthyeating #raw #vegan #cleaneating #superfood #fitnessfood #plantbasedprotein #veganfoodshare #fitfoodie #postworkout #breakfastinspo #smoothie #bluespirulina #bluealgae #e3livebluemajik 💙
But some experts are skeptical. Sharon Zarabi, a registered dietitian and progam director of bariatric surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital, agrees spirulina is “jam-packed with nutrients,” but notes that, “You would need to eat high concentrations in supplemental form” to get the same amount of nutrients you’d get from cheaper and more accessible green veggies.
And registered dietitian and F-Factor Diet founder Tanya Zuckerbrot told Moneyish that, “the most prevalent and most recent study [on spirulina’s health properties] was done in 2008 – and prior to that, it was 1981. More research and clinical trials need to be conducted.”
The plant pigments also give food a deep green or vibrant blue hue, which has been used to create $17 blue smoothie bowls and “mermaid” ice cream in Australia, blue iced tea in NYC and blue ombre chia parfaits in California.
In fact, the FDA approved using the blue-green algae as a food dye in 2013 – after Mars, Incorporated petitioned for permission to use the natural food coloring in M&Ms and other sweets in a move away from artificial colors over the next few years. The Food Marketing Institute told the Wall Street Journal it expects the volume of spirulina used for food and beverages to quintuple in 2020 from 2014, and for the natural food-coloring industry to grow 6.8% per year.
But Murphy admits that the blue green algae’s scummy taste is hard to swallow.
“It’s like pond water in your mouth,” she said, with fishy and earthy notes to it. “It does not taste good at all, or smell good.”
CREAMY MERMAID COCONUT BOWL 🍦🍃🐚🐠🌊💫🌾 with a scoop of homemade blue-algae coconut ice cream. The base was blended fro nanas with pinches of blue-algae powder and wheatgrass powder (which you can't even taste btw!). I finished it off with coconut shreds, dehydrated kiwifruit chips, cashew based rawnola, and dragon fruit balls. Too delicious! ✘ #radplantlife
So The End mixes the Blue Majik extract into an elixir of wildflower honey, cold pressed lemon juice, filtered water and cayenne, which it blends with coconut milk into the unicorn latte that customers are actually enjoying.
“It’s definitely our best-selling drink,” she said, “and there’s been a constant uptick as more and more are sold every month.”
Juice Generation has followed a similar recipe for success with its Holy Water pressed juice, which blends Blue Majik with coconut, pineapple and holy basil. It’s remained in their top five best sellers (out of 15 juices) since launching last year. And founder Eric Helms told Moneyish they are adding a spirulina extract to baked popcorn made with coconut oil that they’re introducing next week.
But rainbow food addicts just can’t get enough of the blue hue, which pops on Instagram and Facebook feeds.
“People want to eat with their eyes first,” said Murphy. “And there’s just something fun about blue food. We usually associated it with something super whimsical, or super-duper unhealthy … but this is really healthy, so it hits that sweet spot in between the wellness and plant-based food movement, and the highly visible, shareable world we live in.”
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