While many people in North America might not think of eating algae, the indigenous people of Japan and China have eaten it for thousands of years for its nutritional properties.

Algae species range from the microscopic to the massive mats of kelp vegetation that float on the surface of the ocean. Of the many species of this plant family, only certain species are fit to consume. From the nori sheets that encircle your sushi to dulse and certain kelps, edible algae is becoming more well known for its nutritional benefits and properties.

One particular species of algae that is gaining attention as a new “superfood” is Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA). Much of the AFA in North America is harvested from the pristine waters of Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon.

Super-Rich in Nutrients

AFA contains more chlorophyll than probably any other food source. Primitive as cyanophyta may appear, most are highly efficient photosynthesizers, even more so than land plants. AFA utilize light energy from the sun, carbon dioxide from the air, and hydrogen from the water to synthesize proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids. AFA grows only in the wild. In many ways, it is nature’s perfect food.

AFA contains amino acids, vitamins, and trace minerals that tone the immune system, raise energy levels, and improve general health. Its high chlorophyll and phytochemical content make it an effective antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage and aids detoxification in the body. Compared to other protein sources, algae are low in fat and high in fibre.

AFA can be found in many easy-to-use forms; capsules for travel, flakes for adding to recipes or smoothies, or as a flash-frozen liquid, which can be directly absorbed by the digestive cells (it is the most bioavailable).

Harvesting and Handling Wisely

The benefits of Aphanizomenon flos-aquae are directly related to the care and attention given to sourcing and harvesting. This begins with the selection of the freshest AFA “blooms” from pristine waters. Harvesting should be quickly followed by rapid chilling to 34 to 37 F (1 to 2.7 C). Next, the AFA should be further purified by careful centrifugation (separation of mixtures), leaving the product scrupulously clean.

AFA may be toxic if harvested improperly. In harvesting, the filtering process separates and removes any unwanted toxins from the beneficial AFA. From the moment the AFA is harvested to its final packaging, the AFA should be handled with care to ensure the highest quality. Where and how the AFA is harvested is paramount to its quality, but it must also be kept cold at all times, undergo superior filtration and special storage, as well as ongoing quality-control and purity testing.

The next time you make a smoothie, add in some AFA and start reaping the benefits of blue-green superfood.

About the Author

Michael Saiber is a lecturer on health and the impact of living foods in our diets. Tamera Campbell is a frequent lecturer on detoxification. Both Saiber and Campbell are harvesters of AFA.