Spirulina – a blue-green alga or cyanobacterium – has been in the natural product arena for many years, and many consumers have been taking supplements formulated with the algae for decades with positive results.
The US supplement sector is about 150-200 tons/year, while adding in the food industry for Spirulina, which includes smoothies, energy bars, juices, and so on, the market is approximately 300-400 tons/year, said a spokesperson for DIC Corporation, which operates two spirulina farms in the world: Earthrise Nutritionals in California and Hainan DIC Microalgae Co. in China.
DIC has been producing Spirulina for almost half a century, and currently cultures 500 tons per year in California. The algae are a rich source of over 50 vitamins and minerals, including calcium and iron, but it’s the protein content that is gaining increasing attention.
“We are stressing the nutritional benefits for physical training and stressing Spirulina as the go-to plant-based protein for exercise,” said the DIC Corp spokesperson. “Even though the protein content in Spirulina is high on a biomass basis, it is important to note the serving size: At two grams per serving, Spirulina requires about 24 servings to get the RDA for protein. However, Spirulina commands a high price for the amino acid profile and digestibility of the protein since it is close to the WHO standard for proteins. Spirulina may also be low in sulfur-containing amino acids.”
Over 600 research papers have been published on Spirulina’s health benefits, and commercially available Spirulina-based products are making structure-function claims including: “Boosts energy”; “Boosts immunity; “Supports cardiovascular health”; and “Supports eye & brain health”
“Numerous scientific and clinical studies attest to its benefits in the areas of immune regulation, antioxidant/anti-inflammatory effects (neuroprotection, liver protection, eye health) cardiovascular health,” said the DIC Corp spokesperson.
“The energy claim is more of an anecdotal evidence and/or derived from the general health promotion effects. A mere search of “Spirulina” on Medline shows over 1400 entries most of which are related to health directly or indirectly.” [see figure below]
The growing body of science is being picked up by numerous blogs and online articles, and this is helping to grow consumer awareness.
The science is just one part of the puzzle, however, and more education is needed to tout the quality aspects of Earthrise Spirulina, said the DIC spokesperson. The company’s Spirulina is Non-GMO project verified, has FSSC22000 (ISO22000) certification, is Halal, Kosher and GRAS. “The key to our marketing is clean and high quality Spirulina,” said the spokesperson.
“It is important to ensure Spirulina is safe to consume for the public and by growing in areas that are Prop 65 compliant, and we can make sure that happens.”
Beyond the nutrition sphere, the company also offers a water-extracted natural blue colorant from Spirulina called Linablue. DIC Corp recently announced it will invest $13 million to expand the production capacity for Linablue, with the new facilities are scheduled to commence operation in 2018.
“The DIC Group currently has over 90% of the global market share for Spirulina-derived natural blue food coloring. With the expansion of Earthrise’s production capacity, the DIC Group is moving to ensure worldwide supremacy, positioning it to capitalize on sharp market expansion to quadruple its 2015 sales of Linablue by 2020,” said the company in a press release.