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How does Spirulina differ from Chlorella?

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When it comes to picking the best nutritional supplement available, many people tend to ask, “How does Spirulina differ from Chlorella and other blue-green algae?” Granted, both are incredibly powerful superfoods that can benefit anyone who takes them as part of their daily health regimen, but spirulina and chlorella are definitely two different varieties of a similar type of microalgae.

Physical Differences Between Spirulina and Chlorella

Spirulina and chlorella are very similar in the fact that they are both types of micro-algae, but whereas spirulina is a spiral-shaped, multi-celled algae with no true nucleus, chlorella is a spherical-shaped single-celled algae with a nucleus. Spirulina can sometimes be up to 100-times larger than chlorella. In addition, while spirulina is a blue-green form of algae, chlorella is a solid green-colored form of algae.

Cultivation Differences Between Spirulina and Chlorella

Spirulina tends to grow best in fresh water ponds, rivers, and lakes that have a relatively high alkaline content. Moderate temperatures and abundant sunshine are required in order to produce exemplary crops. In most natural environments, the waters where spirulina flourishes is usually home to very few other organisms, so harvesting the crop is easier. Meanwhile, chlorella, which is also grown in fresh water, tends to occupy water with other organisms due to its microscopic size, making it much more difficult to harvest and cultivate. Spirulina-chlorella 2             Chlorella is also traditionally more difficult to process than spirulina, due to the fact that it has an indigestible cellulose wall. Therefore, chlorella requires processing before it can be made available for human consumption. It first has to undergo a complex process in order to mechanically break the cellulose wall. If the cellulose wall isn’t broken, then the body won’t be able to digest it. This process is not only complex, but it requires expensive equipment to perform. Therefore, the cost of the product is ultimately significantly higher. Spirulina-chorella 3           In comparison, spirulina has a perfectly digestible cellulose wall, therefore it is readily available for consumption, and immediately digested and absorbed when taken.

Nutritional Differences Between Spirulina and Chlorella

Both spirulina and chlorella are classified as superfoods, so they are both among the richest nutrient sources on the planet. But, spirulina has a higher percentage of protein and iron, as well as all eight essential amino acids; potassium; zinc; calcium; vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B-12. Spirulina also has a higher percentage of beta-carotene, while chlorella has a greater level of chlorophyll (due to its dark green color).

Additional Differences Between Spirulina, Chlorella, and Other Blue-Green Algae

  • Spirulina is easier on the digestive system than chlorella and other types of blue-green algae
  • Spirulina offers the highest level of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a “good fat” that is vital for the health and function of the brain, heart, and other body organs and systems
While both spirulina and chlorella each exhibit incredible health benefits when taken as part of a daily diet, it is clear that due to a significantly higher level of beneficial nutrients and a host of other reasons, spirulina is easily superior to chlorella, and all other types of blue-green algae. Source: http://news.algaeworld.org/2015/07/how-does-spirulina-differ-from-chlorella/  

Algae in the food industry

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Algae in the food industry There is a growing interest in algae derivatives as additives in foods for increased nutrition. The targeted extracts  include plant based omega-3 fatty acids, phycocyanin, antioxidants, protein and lipid contents from algal biomass. Astaxanthin has been included in two different patents . Astaxanthin is a fat-soluble carotenoid compound extracted from Haematococcus pluvialis that is more stable in a combination with another fat or oil. The US patent 8,574,637 from Valensa is …”covering highly stable, zero rancidity defatted whole grain flour derived from whole ground chia seeds that include 30 percent protein, 30 percent to 40 percent insoluble fiber and about 2 percent to 3 percent fructo-oligosaccharides. The patent also covers a broad range of formulated applications for the material. US  patent 8,574,637 is a composition of matter patent covering a stable supercritical CO2 extracted, fractionated chia seed oil and its combination with a number of other ingredients, including fish oil, krilloil, borage oil, olive oil and the addition of astaxanthin.(1) The patent confirms the careful approach that Valensa uses to ensure food integrity is a method that involves supercritical extraction of the chia seeds to avoid the mucilaginous complex that is produced by being in contact with water. The supercritical extraction, which is an oxygen free process, provides the optimal method of extraction. (2) Japanese patent 20130108764 – the aim of this patent is adding astaxanthin which is stabilized in dough. By itself, astaxanthin lacks palatability. So, this patent is trying to increase consumer consumption of Astaxanthin by blending it with a variety of foods. The benefits of astaxanthin have been documented for human health benefits to include antioxidant effects, anti-lipid peroxidation, and anti-inflammation. (3)   Algavia               Fig. 1 – Algavia is Solazyme’s food line.   Solazyme has also entered into the food industry. By engineered preparations of algae proteins and lipids, Solayzme products include algae flours and even algae milk. From a nutritional perspective, “Solazyme lists a wide-ranged spectrum of food categories which can use the company's algal flours.” “The algal flour of the invention is useful for a wide range of food preparations. Because of the oil content, fiber content and the micronized particles, algal flour is a multifunctional food ingredient. Algal flour can be used in baked goods, quick breads, yeast dough products, egg products, dressing, sauces, nutritional beverages…” (4) “The company is exploring products which can enhance or replace emulsifiers, fats and oils, polysaccharides, oligosaccharides, and proteins. Solazyme's microalgae-based food ingredients can increase the functionality of the food products in its target markets. Likewise, it can also improve upon the nutritional profiles of such food products.” “Most notably, this includes the demand for products that are more nutritious yet do not compromise on taste. Additionally, the company can address markets often plagued by food allergies. Solazyme's products also contain ingredients which are both natural and sustainable. Functional benefits also include enhanced taste and texture, natural emulsification, and robust industrial processibility.” (4) Blue_IceCream_SM.jpeg               Fig. 2 Image from GNT USA. Last fall spirulina was approved as a food coloring, a previous posting entitled Spirulina’s progression in the food market. (5) “The primary pigment in spirulina is a protein called phycocyanin. It imparts a cyan, or vibrant blue, color. Manufacturers will most often see spirulina coloring extract in this shade, but that’s not to say that spirulina blue can’t be the foundation for other colors.” (6) Certain limitations are bound with the use of natural food coloring. Spirulina works best in a pH neutral or alkaline environment. Spirulina wouldn’t work in beverages, or in high heat processing and has questionable interactions with dairy products. (6) Overall, the move for using algae based components in the food industry is an intelligent growth. The components are sustainable and nutritionally dense choices that allow the food industry to provide better choices for consumers.   References:

  1. http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/news/2014/06/valensa-obtains-patents-for-chia-ingredients.aspx
  2. http://www.google.com.ar/patents/US8652544
  3. http://www.patentbuddy.com/Patent/20130108764
  4. http://www.algaeindustrymagazine.com/solazyme-introduces-algae-milk/
  5. https://www.buyalgae.com/short-posts/spirulinas-progression-in-the-food-markets/
  6. http://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/1407/coloring-spirulina-blue

Spirulina’s progression in the food markets.

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In fall 2013, Spirulina received approval from the FDA to be included as edible coloring in a very limited selection of products. That selection has now expanded into a wide range of foods as a natural coloring additive. ""The United States Food and Drug Administration recently approved GNT USA, Inc.’s Color Additive Petition (CAP) 2C0297, greatly expanding the use of Spirulina Extract as a natural blue coloring ingredient in food and beverage applications.  While the original regulation [21 CFR 73.530] limited the use of Spirulina Extract to candy and chewing gum, the amended regulation allows for the safe use of Spirulina Extract in: “frostings, ice cream and frozen desserts, dessert coatings and toppings, beverage mixes and powders, yogurts, custards, puddings, cottage cheese, gelatin, breadcrumbs and ready-to-eat cereals (excluding extruded cereals).”(1) "As a pioneer in natural color solutions developed exclusively from edible fruits, vegetables and plants, GNT’s notable raw material innovation lead to the early development of a natural blue and green color portfolio using Spirulina.  GNT USA’s CEO Stefan Hake adds, “Many perceive Spirulina as a new coloring product.  However, because GNT was early to develop this product over 20 years ago, we not only have the required processing technology and production capacity to deliver our high-quality products across the globe, we also have vast technical expertise to make Spirulina work in a great number of applications."(1) "GNT’s Spirulina based color solutions have long been used in European food and beverage products.  All of GNT’s products are simple concentrates of colorful fruits, vegetables and plants – going through physical processing with water and avoiding the use of chemical solvents or other additives.  As such, GNT’s Spirulina based color solutions are considered “Colouring Foods” across the EU and enjoy worldwide regulatory acceptance due to their innately clean-label pedigree." (1) Reference: 1. http://www.gnt-group.com/us-us/about-gnt/media-events/press-releases/fda-approves-gnts-spirulina-color-petition-grants-expanded

Is Vitamin B12 bioavailable in edible algal species?

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Is Vitamin B12 bioavailable in edible algal species?

Vitamin B 12 belongs to the compound group of corrinoids. The distinguishing characteristic of corrinoids is the identifiable corrin nucleus and can only be synthesized in certain bacteria. Other than bioavailable vitamin B12 from animal food sources, there are still questions about if B12 is bioavailable from plant food. Some researchers indicate that edible algae contains large amounts of B12 that is only in the inactive corrinoid form. (1)

In a study by Watanbe, several different species of algae were analyzed to determine and identify bioavailable corrinoids and inactive corrinoids by use of reversed-phase HPLC, UV spectroscopy, and H-NMR Spect.

First, green and purple laver (nori) were analyzed. The samples were characterized and purified. The purple laver contained five types of biologically active B12. The green laver also had authentic B12, largely in the non-coenzyme form. (1)

Second, spirulina tablets were analyzed. The majority of the B12 compounds (83%) were inactive corrinoids and (17%) was authentic B12. (1) Edible cyanobacteria frequently contains large amounts of pseudovitamin B12.(2)

Third, Chlorella was tested from the supplement form of tablets. The B12 was bioavailable. (1)

Fourth, Pleurochrysis carterae, which is an edible algal species commonly consumed as a health food. After the sample was purified and characterized, authentic B12 was identified. (1)

Watanabe also refers to a study which was done on B12 deficient macrobiotic children. The use of dietary nori and chlorella raised their B12 levels by determination of hematological signs. Other species such as kombu, duce, and arame only had a trace of B12 or none bioavailable. Dried nori lavers also proved to be an exceptionally good source of B12 with the additional benefit of less dietary iodine than other edible algal species. (1)

Our digestion system has to have the correct bioavailable form of B12 in order for the human body to utilize it.  Humans have a complex process for gastrointestinal absorption of dietary vitamin B12. Vitamin B released from food protein is first bound to haptocorrin (salivary vitamin B 12 –binding protein) in the stomach. After proteolysis of haptocorrin–vitamin B 12 complex by pancreatic proteases in the duodenum, the released vitamin B 12 binds to intrinsic factor (IF, gastric vitamin B 12-binding protein) in the proximal ileum. The IF–vitamin B 12 complex can enter mucosal cells in the distal ileum by receptor-mediated endocytosis. Bioavailability of dietary vitamin B 12 is significantly dependent on this gastrointestinal absorption system.”(2)

The bottom line is this research clearly outlines, from a scientific point of view, that certain edible species of algae do have bioavailable B12 that is beneficial for humans.



1. WATANABE F, TAKENAKA S, KITTAKA-KATSURA H, EBARA S, MIYAMOTO E. Characterization and Bioavailability of Vitamin B12-Compounds from Edible Algae. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology. [serial online]. 2002;48(5):325-331. Available from: J-STAGE, Ipswich, MA. Accessed December 18, 2013.

2. Watanabe F. Vitamin B12 sources and bioavailability. Experimental Biology And Medicine [serial online]. 2007;232(10):1266-1274. Available from: CAB Abstracts, Ipswich, MA. Accessed December 18, 2013.

FDA Approves Spirulina Food Coloring

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The FDA has now accepted spirulina as a food coloring for candy and gum.  The species, Arthrospira platensis, has been approved for use as of September 13, 2013. Spirulina contains phycocyanins, which are responsible for the distinct blue-green color. In order to use this extract, heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, and mercury must not exceed FDA limits and results for microcystin must test negative. Source: http://www.ift.org/food-technology/daily-news/2013/august/19/fda-allows-natural-blue-from-spirulina-as-food-coloring.aspx

Urban farming with Spirulina

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Bangkok Algae                   Image Credit: AFP In Bangkok, spirulina is being cultivated on rooftops. Growers can double the amount algae in about 24 hours. This innovative method of growing spirulina takes unusable space in the city and turns it in to urban farming that extremely productive. Spirulina is still valued as a protein source and it is becoming a popular meat replacement the far east. Local restaurants in Bangkok are exchanging the use of animal proteins for fresh spirulina. Locally grown spirulina is renewable and very nutrient dense. Source: http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1299923/thais-grow-new-wonder-food-spirulina-their-roofs


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Introduction to Spirulina

Spirulina is a well-known consumable cyanobacteria which is found throughout the warm waters of the world. It’s named from the microscopic spiral-shape that can be uniquely identified only to Spirulina. Spirulina has highest protein content of any natural food, up to two-thirds, while very low in fat.  Other nutritional benefits provided by this alga include chlorophyll, phycocyanin, phycoerthryin, iron, minerals, essential fatty acids, B-vitamins and other phytonutrients.  Research on spirulina indicates potential properties such as antioxidant and antiviral properties and the ability to lower blood lipid levels.   spirulina-fresh spirulina-dried             Fig.1 Fresh Spirulina                                                     Fig.2 Dried Powdered Spirulina  

History and Cultivation of Spirulina

Growing spirulina for food dates back to the era of the Aztecs. Spirulina platensis has been cultivated in many countries. Open ponds for Spirulina production can be found in California, China, Taiwan, and India. This biomass is cultivated for usage in different industries. (6) Over 10% of the Spirulina production is from China, which harvests over 350 tons annually. In the U.S., Spirulina cultivation is largely from Earthrise’s open ponds in California. The production capacity harvests over 450 tons annually.(6)


There are several industries that use spirulina and its extracts. Spirulina biomass is used as a food supplement and in animal feed industry. More than 50% of the Spirulina produced is used in animal feeds. (6) Spirulina’s pigments are valued in the cosmetic industry and the food industry.(6) Phycocyanin and phycoerthryin are two natural pigments extracted from spirulina.(5) Phycocyanin is a blue-colored pigment and phycoerthyrin is a red-colored pigment. They are often extracted from fresh biomass and used as edible coloring.(5) The estimated value for phycocyanin is between $5 to $15 per mg. (6)   Phycocyanin-Chemical Compound         Fig.3 Chemical compound of Phycocyanin

Spirulina composition

Analytical view of spirulina consists of 55- 70% protein, 15 -25% carbohydrates, 18 % fatty acids. Spirulina also offers vitamins, minerals, and pigments (1). Spirulina is a good source for vitamin K and GLA.(5) Several of the B vitamins such as B1, B2, B3 are available, in varying amounts, depending on the specific species. (2) Beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, selenium, zinc are also available from Spirulina. (5) Spirulina offers more beta-carotene than carrots. The rich iodine content of spirulina has been questioned for the safety of human consumption on a regular basis. The iodine contained in Spirulina has been found to be safe for humans taking up to 30g per day. (2) Spirulina also offers iron in an easily digestible and bioavailable form.(3) Spirulina is a potent antioxidant and has been evaluated in many health conditions including inflammatory conditions, vascular health, cancers, etc. (1) The ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) value for spirulina has been estimated around 13,000 while blueberry pigment is about 2,600 (3).The antioxidant activity of Spirulina is higher than chlorella.(5) A part of Spirulina’s antioxidant capacity can be contributed to the variety of mixed carotenoids that it contains. Zeaxanthin, astaxanthin, crytoxanthin are a few of the xanthophylls contained within spirulina. (3) Spirulina is one of the top food sources of beta carotene from provitamin A. (2) All of the carotenoids work together to boost the antioxidant function in the human body. (3) Spirulina is an amazing nutrient-dense renewable resource. This microalgae is a valuable resource for many different industries.  


1.       S. K. Ali and A. M. Saleh, “Spirulina—An Overview,” International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Vol. 4, No 3, 2012, pp. 9-15 2.      SOTIROUDIS T, SOTIROUDIS G. Health aspects of Spirulina (Arthrospira) microalga food supplement. Journal Of The Serbian Chemical Society [serial online]. March 2013;78(3):395-405. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed August 5, 2013 3.      Henrikson, Robert. (2010) Spirulina - World Food: How this micro algae can transform your health and our planet. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 4.     R. Rodríguez-Sánchez, R. Ortiz-Butrón, V. Blas-Valdivia, A. Hernández-García, E. Cano-Europa Phycobiliproteins or C-phycocyanin of Arthrospira (Spirulina) maxima protect against HgCl2-caused oxidative stress and renal damage. Food Chemistry, Volume 135, Issue 4, 15 December 2012, Pages 2359-2365 5.      Venugopal, V. 1., & ebrary, I. (2009). Marine products for healthcare: Functional and bioactive nutraceutical compounds from the ocean. Boca Raton: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis. 6.      Posten, C., Walter, C., & ebrary, I. (2012). Microalgal biotechnology: Integration and economy. Berlin ; Boston: Walter de Gruyter.