Algae has been used for food for centuries, from Mexico to Africa and Asia. The article reviewed here is about health and nutritional benefits. The growing world population requires cost-effective, easily produced nutritional sources. Algae are photosynthetic (growing using light energy), grow rapidly, reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), and produce more biomass than other types of plants. Some grow in saltwater and some grow in fresh water.
Microalgae (microscopic algae) are one-celled, and a source of energy, fuel, and food. These include Cyanophyceae (blue-green algae), Chlorochyceae (green algae), Bacillariophyceae (such as diatoms), and Chrysophyceae (golden algae). Many microalgae produce a variety of nutriceuticals, molecules which not only benefit the diet, but benefit the body by prevention of disease. Microalgae are foods of high quality with low environmental impact.
Chlorella and spirulina microalgae are highly nutritious to humans and other animals as follows: cats, dogs, aquarium fish, ornamental birds, horses, poultry, cows, and breeding bulls. The United Nations World Food Conference of 1974 declared spirulina to be the “best food of the future”. Especially advantageous is the fact that spirulina can be produced on otherwise non-cultivable land.
Chlorella and spirulina are widely successful commercially at this time. A number of other microalgae are used as feed in aquaculture. Algae are good sources of extracts of vitamins, carotenoids, vitamin B-12, vitamin E, astaxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin, chlorophyll, PUFA, DHA, linoleic acid, oleic acid, and gamma-linolenic acid.
Microalgae are good sources of natural dyes and food colorings, and some are good thickeners for food products. Because of concern over the widespread overuse of fish for fish oil supplements, microalgae are being used as a source of PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids). Microalgae are a source of sterols, which reduce LDL cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health. Some algae even have antimicrobial activity.
The taste and smell of microalgae are a problem to some people.
Since algae are high in nucleic acids, they may be a problem to people with gout or stones because uric acid levels may become elevated. When algae are harvested from natural sources, they must be constantly tested for contamination by unhealthy algae. Natural waters have been used in the past to grow microalgae. This is hampered by contamination and damage by predators. Recent attempts to bioengineer microalgae have developed slowly. Progress has been hampered by difficulty providing adequate and economic lighting for photosynthesis. Spirulina has been highly resistant to genetic-modification. At this time, there are no modified microalgae on the market.
Algae safety is regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the United States. Food sources include Spirulina, Chlorella, Dunaliella, Haematococcus, S. chizochytrium, P. cruentum, and C. cohnii, all GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe). Also, included are oils from Schyzochitrium and Ulkenia, a microalgae protein powder, and a lipid from Chlorella.
Spirulina is the microalgae with the largest annual production at 12,000 tons per year. Most is produced in China, India, and Taiwan. About 5,000 tons of chlorella is produced yearly. Yearly, 3,000 tons of D. salina is produced for carotene; 1,500 tons of A. flosaquae is produced for food; 700 tons of H. pluvialis is produced for astaxanthin; 500 tons of C. cohnii is produced for DHA; and 20 tons of Shizochytrium is produced for DHA.
CONCLUSION: Microalgae, which have been used around the world for centuries as food sources, are now being produced at industrial levels. This field lacks adequate research, but promises to be a major addition to the future supply of nutritious food to prevent and treat diseases, globally.
Rainbow Grocery has the following products: Blue-green algae, chlorella, red algae, and spirulina.