A visit to an artisan spirulina producer
Artisan Spirulina producers are dwarfed by huge commercial producers in China, USA and other countries.
I wanted to see how this highly acclaimed algal food was grown. So whilst on holiday in the south of France I took a look.
Some background to artisan spirulina
I must confess that, before seeing spirulina on sale, I had little previous knowledge of this acclaimed super food. I discovered it on sale at a small village market in the Cevennes last week.
My eldest daughter was with me and, since she is a vegetarian, she’s a regular consumer of artisan spirulina.
Spirulina is claimed to have high antioxidant properties. It can be an excellent source of protein. It’s claimed to be high in vitamins and minerals.
There is much more detail here. This blog focuses on the production rather than the benefits of eating spirulina.
Artisan spirulina, indeed all spirulina, is often described as a blue green algae that is edible.
My artisan spirulina nursery visit
After chatting to the partner of Cevenn’ Algues at the small market, I arranged to visit their small scale production unit.
Kevin Soulia and his partner Florent Auclair run the small nursery together. Here they grow and process artisan spirulina.
They have interesting and surprising backgrounds with one formerly a chef and the other a dental engineer!
The production unit consists of two large polytunnels which I estimate to be 8m x 25m.
Each tunnel contains two large water tanks. It’s in these tanks that the spirulina is grown.
The tanks are sited on low grade land that has been levelled. It’s in an area that would otherwise be scrub land.
Nearby were several vineyards and olive oil growers but much of the surrounding land is uncultivated and given over to nature.
What is required to grow Spirulina?
The main requirements are good light and warmth.
This means that artisan spirulina, indeed any spirulina production, tends to be successful only in hot countries.
The edible algae is grown in clean water that has been treated to drinking quality.
This water is slowly circulated with several small pumps.
The water has a very high pH. This discourages other organisms to grow in it. Nominally the pH is over 10.
I explain the importance of soil pH here.
Rather like yeast used in bread making, the algae does not need to be regularly renewed. Some is always left in the tanks to multiply.
It grows as single cells that frequently divide.
Once started the production cycle is constant and a regular harvest can be taken.
However, to start growth major nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphate, potash and trace elements are added to the water.
Generally the first harvest can be taken after just 10-15 days.
After that the subsequent harvests are taken 4 times per week.
The harvesting of this edible blue green algae is very simple.
It is merely dipped out of the tanks and then strained through fine mesh on filter tables.
The water that is strained off is returned to the tanks.
Post harvest treatment
Large commercial blue green algae producers dry the spirulina and sell it as a powder.
Artisan producers claim that much of the goodness is lost in doing this. They use a more gentle process.
They reduce the water content to make a cake of algae.
Then they extrude it to produce thin strips.
These strips are then further dried at low temperature. They are then ready for packaging and sale.
It is claimed that this cool drying leads to no loss of vitamins.
Other than direct sales at village markets, Cevenn’ Algues artisan spirulina can be bought online from their website here.
Consumption of spirulina is recommended for vegetarians, athletes, elderly people, for those convalescing, pregnant women breastfeeding and anyone experiencing fatigue.
Have you seen spirulina growing?
Do you eat it yourself and, if you do, how do you eat it?
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