Learn how to use spirulina, this beautiful blue-green algae, to power up your diet with flavor and health.
Have you seen a beautiful blue-green smoothie on Instagram or in a smoothie shop and wondered where those gorgeous colors came from? Well, you’ve probably just had your first exposure to spirulina, a plant-based food with a unique abundance of chlorophyll, which is responsible for that striking color, as well as health properties. Although you’ll find this blue-green algae has a grassy, earthy taste, its flavor is less prominent when mixed into various recipes that soften its profile. You’ll probably find it mostly used in powder form in foods, beverages, and supplements.
What is Spirulina?
This blue-green algae is technically a cyanobacteria, because it is grown in freshwater ponds and saltwater lakes. This plant-based ingredient has been used for many years in various countries around the world as a food source—even as far back as the Aztecs and Mesoamericans, mainly as an ingredient for making cakes and bread. Spirulina can be found at just about any health or grocery store today, generally in the form of powder, tablets, and capsules. This vibrant, blue-green superfood not only grabs your attention at first glance, but it contains a variety of nutrients, including protein, vitamin K, B vitamins, beta-carotene, potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. Studies have shown that it contains antioxidants that may provide potential health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, minimizing inflammation, enhancing immunity, and reducing allergy symptoms—though more research is needed to clearly understand the role this ingredient has on health.
Spirulina Nutrition Facts
1 tablespoon contains:
- Protein: 4 g (8% DV)
- Vitamin K: 2 mcg (2% DV)
- Niacin: .9 mg (4% DV)
- Thiamin: .2 mg (11% DV)
- Riboflavin: .3 mg (15% DV)
- Copper: 4 mg (21% DV)
- Potassium: 95 mg (3% DV)
- Iron: 2 mg (11% DV)
- Calcium: 8 mg (1% DV)
- Magnesium: 14 mg (3% DV)
- Beta-carotene: 40 mg
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: 58 mg
- Omega-6 Fatty Acids: 89 mg
How to Use Spirulina in Your Kitchen
Now you’re probably wondering, “How can I use spirulina in my diet?” You may be surprised to find out that this ingredient is versatile. You can add the powder to both sweet and savory dishes, such as smoothies, protein bites, salad dressings, hummus, and even avocado spread! Most recipes only require about a spoonful of this powder in order to get those nutrients associated with it; however, you can add more if you enjoy its earthy, seaweed taste.
Five Must-Try Spirulina Recipes
1. Whiz up a Smoothie. Everyone enjoys a fresh, nutritious smoothie for a quick to-go breakfast or as a pick-me-up snack after lunch, so next time you are about to make a green smoothie, try adding a spoonful of this beautiful blue-green powder. The ingredients for a green spirulina smoothie are endless, but one of the most delicious, tropical recipes includes banana, pineapple, spirulina powder, mango, kale, and nut-based milk of your choice. You can also add chopped dates for extra sweetness. Check out some more tips on how to build a green smoothie, and toss in some spirulina next time.
2. Make it Bite-Sized. Since spirulina contains plant-based protein, you can incorporate it into gluten-free, energizing protein bites. Keep in mind that you can get creative and alter any ingredients in your protein bites to your preference, but my favorite combination includes spirulina powder, rolled oats, cacao powder, hemp seeds, flax seeds, maple syrup, crunchy almond butter, chopped dates, and coconut shreds. One great thing about protein bites is that you don’t have to cook them; all you need to do is mix up your ingredients, roll into balls, chill in the refrigerator until firm, and enjoy!
3. Stir Up a Dressing. The versatility of spirulina powder allows you to incorporate it into vinaigrettes as well! Just mix a bit into your favorite salad dressing for added nutrition and flavor. Try my recipe for Tumeric Vinaigrette and add in some spirulina powder, along with lemon juice, olive oil, turmeric, sea salt, and black pepper. Then just toss that vinaigrette into your favorite salad. Don’t limit your spirulina vinaigrette to just salads; add it to your grain bowls, marinated tofu, wraps, potatoes, and rice for extra flavor.
4. Whip it into Hummus. Did you know you can add spirulina powder to your favorite hummus? Just follow the exact same steps for making the hummus, adding a spoonful of spirulina powder before blending it. All you’ll need is chickpeas, garlic cloves, olive oil, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, tahini, black pepper and spirulina powder. Blend it all up in a food processor or a high-powered blender until you get the desired consistency. The blue-green color of spirulina is so powerful that it changes the color of any dish you add it to.
5. Spread it On with Avocados. One of my favorite, simple recipes is simple smashed avocados on toast; it’s a meal full of heart healthy fats, gut-friendly fiber, and potassium. You can increase its nutrient density by adding spirulina powder to the mixture. To make spirulina avocado toast, all you’ll need is a ripe avocado, spirulina powder, garlic, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, sea salt, and black pepper. Your transition for your avocado toast will go in color from a soft, light green to a beautiful, blue-green color! You can also skip the toast and use your avocado spread as a dip with whole-grain chips and veggies, or as a topping on your grain bowl or tacos.
Written by Savanna Malki, dietetic intern and Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
Photos by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
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Note: this post is not sponsored.