Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"They Actually Eat That:" Spirulina.

Go to a smoothie shop sometime. Besides the flavors of the day (usually strawberry, strawberry-banana, and wildberry mixes), there is always a signboard of things that one can add to make one's smoothie healthy. (Note: This may not apply to McDonald's.) Such things include extra vitamin C, wheatgrass, extra protein, and other lovely ingredients to make your smoothie taste less like an over-sugared fruit drink and more like health food.

Then there's spirulina. That sounds adorable and scientific, and hey, the signboard says it's good for you. It sounds like another superfood. So you get some in your strawberry smoothie and it comes out looking about as appetizing as cat vomit. Don't worry; it tastes just fine.

But what did you add, anyways? There's some horrible, horrible catch to spirulina, isn't there?

Actually, this one looks really pretty!

Spirulina (Arthrospira maxima) is really a cyanobacterium, powdered for your convenience. It is one of many cyanobacteria. All that means is that the bacterium in question is blue-green due to chlorophyll - yes, the same stuff in plants. You've got the nutrients of a bunch of veggies in your smoothie thanks to eons of bacterial evolution.

Really, we mean eons. 

Cyanobacteria were the first creatures to ever make chlorophyll. That is how old they are: they predate plants. Forget the dinosaurs and trilobites, cyanobacteria are so old that they single-handedly changed the Earth from having a caustic atmosphere of methane and CO2 to one with oxygen, creating more efficient biological systems for all. (OK, except for the anaerobic bacteria - those are still around, but more on them later this week.) You owe these bacteria for the air you breathe. They're that important.  

And they look like Cousin Itt mixed with a sloth.

People have been eating spirulina for as long as humans have been around. It is pretty much everywhere. A lot of it is farmed in Southeast Asia. It is in no way endangered. Really, they're bacteria. It's hard to find endangered bacteria. 

So don't be afraid to put spirulina in your smoothie. These little guys have been feeding life since before you existed. Raise your plastic smoothie glasses to oxygen!

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