This aquatic superfood is making waves.
Spirulina, the blue-green algae that grows in freshwater (and sometimes salt water) and is packed with protein, vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids, is popping up at eateries around New York City.
Typically found as a powdery substance and similar to seaweed, Spirulina is being sprinkled into healthy, everyday foods and drinks like lattes, acai bowls, smoothies and sushi rolls.
“It sounds like, ‘Ew, who would eat this?’ — but people are using it as ways to boost their energy as opposed to just putting Splenda in your coffee,” says New York-based nutritionist Lisa Young.
It’s a substitute for caffeine in a latte at The End, a new Montauk-inspired coffee bar in Williamsburg. The sea-blue drink called a Unicorn Latte, which you’ve probably seen all over social media, incorporates a tablespoon of spirulina extract with the option of garnishing it with the powder as well. The beverage also comprises raw cashews, vanilla bean, pressed ginger, lemon juice, maca root and dates. It’s served warm or chilled.
While many people may just be buying the beverage for the pretty color and “likes” on Instagram, the whimsical beverage is said to promote energy and reduce anxiety. And much of that might have to do with the greenish stuff.
“Research shows there are many health benefits,” Young says. “Spirulina could help lower your blood pressure, possibly improve the immune system and therefore help to ward off chronic illnesses. It may also reduce cholesterol and boost energy.”
Plus, it packs around four grams of protein per tablespoon, a reason why Pure Green, a healthy juice and smoothie mini-chain, sprinkles it into smoothies and acai bowls.
It’s an ingredient in the company’s Purple Haze Smoothie, made with blueberries, strawberries, banana, agave and almond milk; and the Pure Green Acai Bowl, a fruit-rich blend of bananas, almond milk, cold pressed apples and acai.
If you want to buy spirulina for at-home use, Pure Green founder Ross Franklin says to proceed with caution since there are many different grades that could be contaminated.
“Make sure the spirulina comes from a trusted source and is organic,” advises Franklin. “I always do the smell test — I’m not kidding. If the spirulina smells ‘fishy,’ this is not a good sign. Many low-grade spirulina brands actually do have a fishy smell. Stay far away from this.”
But good spirulina does go well with fish dishes. Chef Sandy Dee Hall, of the newly opened raw food eatery called Raw Material on the Lower East Side, makes a mackerel hand roll prepared with a salt and sugar cured mackerel that’s layered with ginger, avocado and house-made spirulina brown rice before it’s rolled into a seaweed cone.
“Spirulina goes really well with seafood dishes and an accouterment,” Hall says. “Since it’s plant based, the flavor almost mimics seaweed and so it lends itself nicely to other aquatic food. The spirulina balances out the soy and the cured fish flavor to provide a nicely balanced dish. It’s rich with umami flavor.”
If you really want to dive into this super food, you can add a small spoonful of the powder into juice or a glass of water and drink it straight. But the intense, earthy flavor can be off-putting on its own, so Young suggests blending it in shakes, ice cream or simply mixing it with lime.
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