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Is Algae The New Superfood?

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The scummy greenery floating atop your local pond may not strike you as the most appetising nor beautifying kitchen ingredient but algae is the latest superfood that health-gurus and those in the know are regularly reaching for.

Before you automatically write it off, algae isn’t actually as gross as it sounds. The organism, formerly classified as a plant, is unicellular or multicellular, occurring in fresh or salt water or moist ground, that has chlorophyll and other pigments but lack true stems, roots, and leaves. So far not so convincing nor mouth-watering. However, algae is incredibly nutrient-rich, has countless health benefits (we’ll touch on those later) and is a powerful liver and metal detoxifier that could be the answer to your hangover prayers. Move over pomegranates, blueberries, green tea and the most-recently hero-worshipped kale, there's a new antioxidant to take pride of place on your kitchen counter.

Nikki Ostrower of NAO Nutrition explains that chlorella, a green sea algae that is found in freshwater "has an abundance of minerals, vitamins and amino acids. The bright green colour also has a very high chlorophyll content, so it's known as a huge liver detoxifier." Extremely high in protein, as well as Vitamins A and B, iron, magnesium and zinc, it helps fight off environmental toxins, tackle fatigue and strengthen the immune system. Spirulina, a specific type of blue-green algae that is the perfect addition to your morning green juice, is heavily rich in protein (it contains 70% complete protein while a cooked steak surprisingly contains just 25%) and has more amino acids than any other non-animal source.

For millennia, indigenous tribes in Africa, South America and Asia have consumed algae for its remedial qualities. Spirulina increases energy, aids in combatting illness, improves digestion, helps with weight loss, enhances exercise performance, stabilises blood sugar levels, and improves respiratory function. It also helps with evening skin tone and combats other dermatological issues.

So yes, evidently algae may be very good for us but doesn’t it taste rank?

So yes, evidently algae may be very good for us but doesn’t it taste rank? Health and food writer Eva Ramirez assures as that it is both delicious and nutritious. "I love sea vegetables - for soups, salads and even smoothies! Spirulina is protein-rich and great for active days and chlorella is perfect if you're in need of a detox. Dulse is delicious in soups, stews and salads. It's rich in iodine, iron, magnesium and calcium and contains almost all of the nutrients found in the ocean as well as the same minerals found in human blood. It expands when it comes into contact with water so you won't need as much as you think. Sea spaghetti is a great one for noodle salads. Atlantic Kitchen is a great brand for people who don't know where to start. It's crispy, salty and yummy!”

Personal health benefits aside, choosing algae above other foods has far greater advantages too. As worries over the environmental repercussions of eating meat have come to the fore, more and more people are now opting for plant-based meat alternatives instead. The vegetarian market in America is a $2.8 billion-a-year industry, thanks to vast sales of wheat, rice soy, nuts, spices, beans, vegetables and dairy products.

Tapping into this increased interest in non-meat and environmentally-friendly items, a number of businesses have been experimenting with algae-based oils to use instead of olive oil. In the past year there has been a boom in algae-based pizza crust, algae brownie mix and even coffee creamer. Certain types of algae have less saturated fats than olive or canola oil and a high proportion of infant formulas use algae oil as the main source of their healthy fats.

"Algae is pretty amazing. It’s unbelievably sustainable, actually it’s more like renewable, since they make algal oil using microbes. It doesn’t tax our land,” says food development expert Barb Stuckey, Chief Innovation Officer at Mattson, a Silicon Valley-based food company which has created algae-based milks and baked goods.

Sustainable, affordable, arguably tasty, good for your insides, outsides and the earth too, we're sold. Next time you're near a health food store (NB: not your local pond), pick up some algae and give it a go.
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