Nicholas DeRenzo reports for BBC News about spirulina increasingly showing up on menus in Mexico City, echoing the return of a pre-Hispanic dietary staple. “Oral traditions say that the Mexica couriers and runners in ancient Tenochtitlan would eat dried spirulina cakes with corn, tortillas, beans, chilies or mole as fuel for long-distance travel,” said Denise Vallejo, an indigenous first-generation Xicana chef who runs the vegan Los Angeles pop-up Alchemy Organica.
The Mexica — or Aztecs, as they were later known – harvested protein-rich spirulina from the surface of Lake Texcoco, in central Mexico. “After the Spanish invasion, most of its consumption declined with the draining of the lakes in the Valley of Mexico,” she said. “And many of the Spanish didn’t enjoy its ‘cheesy’ or ‘slimy’ properties. Knowledge of its consumption was lost for a long time.”
The Western world rediscovered spirulina in the 1940s, when a French phycologist noticed the Kanembu people along Africa’s Lake Chad harvesting spirulina and turning it into sun-dried cakes called dihé. Spirulina made its return to Mexico in the 1960s, when the owners of Sosa Texcoco encouraged its growth and opened the world’s first commercial spirulina company, Spirulina Mexicana, near Lake Texcoco.
Though Spirulina Mexicana is no longer in business, Spirulina Viva, a micro-farm on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende, is continuing the tradition. American expat Katie Kohlstedt and her San Luis Potosí-born husband, Francisco Portillo, have grown fresh spirulina since 2010. “We’re really proud to grow it here,” she said. “We didn’t have to invent something new or bring something from somewhere else.”
“Fresh spirulina should be creamy like a spreadable cheese,” Ms. Kohlstedt said. “If you closed your eyes, you might think you were eating a cross between an avocado and spinach.”
She recommends eating spirulina as simply as possible, stirred into warm miso soup or bone broth, blended into a smoothie, spread on bread or mixed into guacamole with extra lime juice, “…because vitamin C has been shown to help iron absorption. You’re going to feel like you just ate Popeye’s lunch.”
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