- Most of the commercially available spirulina is grown in shallow bodies of water such as lakes and ponds (“raceway ponds”. However, spirulina can be cultivated in bioreactors. Regardless of where spirulina is grown in, the algae need to have enough light exposure.
- A more advanced and innovative method of growing spirulina uses a giant tube (or bioreactor) system. This method is more sustainable than the old-fashioned pool growing system. Growing spirulina in a tube also allows the manufacturers to produce more products almost non-stop since the tubes require less cleaning than ponds or lakes and can produce a higher yield.
- Always ensure that the spirulina you get comes from a clean source since spirulina that's grown incorrectly can be contaminated with heavy metals, microcystin, BMAA, herbicides, and pesticides. Purchase certified products that don't contain any artificial preservatives and fillers.
Spirulina is a popular superfood used by many people around the globe as a healthy dietary supplement. Manufacturers consider this algae one of the most promising health foods in the world, and scientists keep studying spirulina year after year to find even more evidence of its health benefits and excellent nutritional properties.
Spirulina is very popular with health food enthusiasts, especially those looking for an alternative protein source, since this algae is low in carbohydrates and high in plant protein, vital minerals, and vitamins.
While ancient nations originally cultivated spirulina in salted, subtropical, or tropical waters, modern manufacturing allows us to harvest this algae from open ponds and tubes. Many factors can influence spirulina's successful growth, including temperature, the amount of light, water quality and pH, and the presence of nutrients such as nitrogen and carbon in the water. Spirulina naturally exists in water environments rich in carbonate and bicarbonate, and it doesn't really need a living energy or organic carbon source to exist.
Where is Spirulina Grown?
There are several ways spirulina is grown commercially today:
Open Raceway Ponds
Spirulina is typically cultivated in shallow water environments such as lakes, ponds, containers or pools. These containers can be made out of plastic or glass, but the plastic ones are more convenient since it's harder to damage them. It's best if the container is transparent, as this increases the amount of light spirulina is exposed to. Unfortunately most open raceway ponds use bicarbonate as the main carbon source to grow spirulina which does not take advantage of spirulina’s sustainability potential to efficiently biofixate CO2.
Some manufacturers also grow spirulina in photobioreactors, which are essentially giant tubes filled with water. One huge benefit of this method is that it allows spirulina to be grown in a fully controlled environment. A closed system eliminates any possibility of contamination. This is important to note since spirulina can be contaminated with microcystins and heavy metals when grown in unsafe environments. Consuming contaminated spirulina will do you more harm than good. However, you can rest easy knowing that most commercially available spirulina is produced on farms where the cultivation process is set up in accordance with a strict set of rules.
Additionally, growing spirulina in glass tubes doesn't require as much cleaning as when it's grown in ponds. This significantly increases the output of spirulina. This method is also more sustainable because it doesn't require any extra light or heat and and you can use CO2 as the main carbon source..
How It Works
When growing spirulina in a glass tube, the first step of the manufacturing process is to take a single cell of the algae culture and grow it in a lab until it's ready to be placed in a tube. In the best-case scenario, spirulina's cells will split once a day as they are moved through the pipe system. Usually, it will take about four to ten days for spirulina to be ready for harvesting. Some spirulina cells are removed and replaced by water and nutrients during the cultivation process in order to stimulate growth.
Choosing the Source of Spirulina
Spirulina has one of the most impressive nutritional profiles among all the dietary supplements known to humans. It's incredibly rich in essential nutrients such as iron, magnesium, folate, vitamin B12, beta-carotene, protein, vital amino acids, including GLA, phytonutrients, and Omega-3, 6, 9. This powerful superfood is even included in astronauts' diets on the International Space Station.
However, it's crucial to pay attention to the source of spirulina that you consume since this algae can absorb contaminants from the environment. Thus, if you don't buy spirulina harvested from a clean source, all the nutritional benefits of this supplement may be compromised, as low-quality spirulina can contain toxins like BMAA, heavy metals, herbicides, microcystin, and pesticides.
When choosing a spirulina supplement, make sure that the algae wasn't grown in seawater since it may contain unhealthy amounts of iodine. Also, make sure to check for certifications such as Ecocert, EU Organic, Naturland, or USDA. If the spirulina is labelled as USDA organic, it means that it was manufactured following strict cultivating practices and is free of GMOs, synthetic pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. Look for pure spirulina grown in a pristine, freshwater source. The supplement should also be properly dried. It's best to purchase spirulina from a manufacturer that doesn't put any additives into the supplement after harvesting the algae.
What is the safest spirulina?
The best spirulina brands include FUL®, New Farmers, NOW Foods, Earthrise, HealthForce Spirulina Manna, Zhou's Non-GMO Spirulina Powder, and Sari Foods.
How do you know if spirulina is safe?
When choosing spirulina, opt for a natural product, free of any added flavours and colourings. Tablets should contain at least 98% of spirulina, and both tablets and powder should be labelled "spirulina", "Spirulina platensis", or "Arthrospira platensis".
Can spirulina be harmful?
When grown in an unsafe environment, spirulina can be contaminated and thus become harmful to your health. If spirulina is harvested from an uncertified environment, it can contain toxic metals, harmful bacteria, and microcystins, all of which can lead to many unpleasant symptoms, including liver damage, vomiting, thirst, nausea, rapid heartbeat, weakness, shock, and even death.
Does spirulina grow in the ocean?
No, spirulina doesn't grow in the ocean, but it can be found in a seawater environment. However, it's not recommended to consume spirulina that grows in saltwater because it can contain dangerous iodine levels.