Spirulina - Super Food

All about Spirulina. Spirulina as a human and animal food, spirulina as a medicine. Spirulina production and clutivation methods.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

History of Spirulina in Human Consumption

It is not known with accuracy when man began to use microalgae. The current use of these resources has three precedents: tradition, scientific and technological development, and the so-called, “green tendency” (Henrikson, 1994).

Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a member of Hernán Cortez´s troops, reported in 1521, that Spirulina was harvested from the Lake Texcoco, dried and sold for human consumption in a Tenochtitlán (today Mexico City) market. This author makes reference to "..small cakes made of a mud-like algae, which has a cheese-like flavor, and that natives took out of the lake to make bread,..." (Ciferri, 1983).

Years later, the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún wrote: “... in certain periods of the year, very soft things are gathered from Mexican lakes. They look like curdles, have a clear blue color, and are used to make bread, that then eaten cooked...” Natives gave this food the name of Tecuitlalt, which in their language literally means “excrements of stones”. In 1524, friar Toribio of Benavente related that the Aztecs harvested the Tecuitlalt, using clothes for pressing and the resulting dough was placed on sand and exposed to the sunshine for its drying. Once Spanish Conquest was over, the topic of the Tecuitlalt was not mentioned again, and its elaboration fell into oblivion, possibly due to contagious disease outbreaks, attributed to the new customs adopted by the Indians, new foods, and the deep social, political and religious changes brought by the Europeans.

In 1940, the French phycologist P. Dangeard mentioned a cake called dihé, consumed by the people of the Kanembu tribe, near the African Lake Chad, in the sub-desert area of Kanem. Dihé is a hardened cake of blue-green algae, collected at the banks of small ponds surrounding the lake and later on sun-dried. Dangeard studied the dihé samples and concluded that it was a purée of a spring form blue algae, main constituent of the phytoplankton in a large number of the African Valley’s lakes (Ciferri, 1983). Between 1964 and 1965, the botanist Jean Leonard (Leonard, 1966), who participated in the Belgian Trans-Saharan Expedition, was impacted when he observed "a curious bluish green substance, similar to cookies…" Leonard confirmed that dihé was made up of Spirulina, obtained from alkaline lakes in the Kanem desert, northeast of Lake Chad.

At that time, a group of French investigators studied some samples of Spirulina (S. maxima) that grew abundantly in Lake Texcoco, near Mexico City (Ciferri, 1983; Richmond, 1992). From the scientific point of view, the microalgae cultivation began in 1919 with Warburg’s investigations. This scientist was well known for his works on dense suspensions of Chlorella, as a tool to study photosynthesis. The easy manipulation under controlled conditions and the experimental reproducibility made the microalgae favorite organisms for biochemical, vegetable physiology and photosynthetic studies.

In 1950, the United States and Japan began the experimental cultivations of this microorganism to investigate its chemical composition and industrial applications. Japan was the first country to produce Chlorella using this microorganism as diet food or a water-soluble extract, denominated Chlorella Growth Factor (Devlin, 1975). From 1970, the nutritional and medicinal studies on Spirulina have proliferated. In 1970, the German Federal Republic supported investigations on human consumption of Spirulina in India, Thailand and Peru. In the Asian countries, the production was focused on nutritious support for the undernourished population; in Peru, efforts have been made to industrialize the production of Scenedesmus.

In 1970, the massive production of microalgae, which could be used in protein production and in water treatment, was projected . Spirulina is marketed and consumed in: Germany, Brazil, Chile, Spain, France, Canada, Belgium, Egypt, United States, Ireland, Argentina, Philippines, India, New Zealand, Africa, and other countries, where public administration, sanitary organisms and associations have approved human consumption.

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