Believed to have been a staple for the Aztecs, recorded history dating to the Conquistadors confirms that spirulina cakes were regularly sold as far back as the 16th century. One of the most elaborate explanations we have from this time comes from Cortez in his book, “Conquest of Mexico.”
They make it into cakes like bricks, which they sell, not only in the market (of Tenochtitlan) but carry it to others outside the city, and far off. They eat this as we eat cheese, and it has rather a salty taste, which is delicious with chilmolli (a pungent sauce). They say that so many birds come to the lake for this food, that often in winter some parts are covered with them.”
Referred to as “Tecuitlatl,” spirulina was a primary source of protein for the Aztecs for several hundred years and Lake Texcoco remains an abundant fountainhead of this Superfood still today.
First mentioned by Dangeard in the 1940s, history tells us that Central Africans near Lake Chad have been cultivating spirulina since they first inhabited the region in the 9th century.
Referred to as “die,” an article was written in 1959 highlighting this fascinating food, yet researchers confused it with chlorella. It wasn’t until a Belgian Expedition in 1969, however, that scientists finally discovered the true value of spirulina.
Hawaiian Spirulina Pacifica
As one of the most nutritious, concentrated whole foods known to humankind, Hawaiian Spirulina Pacifica provides more nutrition gram per gram than any other spirulina on the market. Just one 3-gram serving, for instance, contains:
- 60 percent protein and an excellent source of vitamins A, K1, K2, B12 and iron, manganese and chromium
- A rich source of health-giving phytonutrients such as carotenoids, GLA, SOD and phycocyanin
- 2800 percent more beta-carotene than carrots
- 600 percent more protein than tofu
- 280 percent more antioxidants than blueberries
Spirulina vs. Chlorella
Because they are both similar microalgae species, it’s easy to understand how scientists confused spirulina with chlorella back in the 1940s.
In spite of their stark differences, people commonly mistake one for the other even today. Here are the four main differences that are important to understand:
First of all, spirulina is a spiral-shaped, multi-celled plant with no true nucleus. It’s blue-green in hue and can grow up to 100 times the size of chlorella. Comparably, chlorella is a spherical-shaped single-celled microorganism with a nucleus and is solid green.
2. How It’s Grown
Second, the growing conditions differ considerably. Spirulina grows best in low-alkaline conditions — particularly, fresh water lakes, ponds and rivers. It also requires an abundance of sunshine and moderate temperatures.
Chlorella, on the other hand, grows in fresh water typically occupied by other organisms, which makes it more challenging to harvest.
Third, the ways in which both spirulina and chlorella can be eaten are also very different. Because of its hard, indigestible cellulose wall, for instance, chlorella requires mechanical processing to make it worthwhile for human consumption. Otherwise, the body won’t be able break down and metabolize its nutrients.
The process can be quite costly, which explains why chlorella is usually more expensive than spirulina. On the other hand, spirulina has a completely digestible cellulose wall and can be immediately consumed and digested with ease.
Finally, although both are considered superfoods, spirulina and chlorella differ in their nutritional content. Arguably the healthier of the two, spirulina contains more essential amino acids, iron, protein, B vitamins, and vitamins C, D and E.
With that said, chlorella still holds an abundance of health benefits. My personal go-to, however, is spirulina.
Spirulina Nutrition Facts
The major reason why I prefer spirulina to chlorella? Because dietary spirulina is arguably the most nutrient-dense food on the planet. It’s why I believe that taking dietary spirulina supplements is essential to good health. Taken as an average of different spirulina species, just one ounce contains the following nutritional content:
- Calories: 81
- Protein: 39 grams
- Dietary fiber: 1 gram
- Sugars: 0.9 gram
- Total fat: 3 percent DV
- Saturated fat: 4 percent DV
- Omega-3 fatty acids: 230 milligrams
- Omega-6 fatty acids: 351 milligrams
- Copper: 85 percent DV
- Iron: 44 percent DV
- Manganese: 27 percent DV
- Magnesium: 14 percent DV
- Sodium: 12 percent DV
- Potassium: 11 percent DV
- Zinc: 4 percent DV
- Phosphorus: 3 percent DV
- Calcium: 3 percent DV
- Selenium: 3 percent DV
- Riboflavin: 60 percent DV
- Thiamin: 44 percent DV
- Niacin: 18 percent DV
- Pantothenic acid: 10 percent DV
- Vitamin K: 9 percent DV
- Vitamin E: 7 percent DV
- Folate: 7 percent DV
- Vitamin B6: 5 percent DV
- Vitamin C: 5 percent DV
- Vitamin A: 3 percent DV
Spirulina Possible Side Effects
It’s absolutely critical to make sure that the quality and purity of the spirulina that you consume is of the highest standards. Particularly, like anything that comes from the sea, be certain to only purchase blue-green algae that is free from contamination. According to WebMD, contaminated spirulina can cause the following:
- Liver damage
- Stomach pain
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shock and even death
Also, some sources suggest that pregnant women and children should not consume algae. Contact your natural health care provider to confirm whether or not you should be using spirulina supplements.