A lot of our readers asked me if they should buy Organic spirulina vs. the regular one. But what does  “Organic” spirulina mean? It means it was produced using only certified organic nutrients.

What is Organic Spirulina?

There’s different ways to look at the “organic” certification but one thing is important to understand: It’s not because it’s not organic that it won’t be good for you. In addition, the way spirulina has been dehydrated and the nutrient content of spirulina is not taken into consideration when labeled “organic”. Which mean that if it wasn’t dry properly or if you have low levels of any pigments, the organic certification won’t show it.

Natural spirulina in a small spirulina farm in Madagascar
Natural spirulina in a small spirulina farm in Madagascar

Most of the nutrients added to the water to feed spirulina can easily be found as organic nutrients expect one – the nitrogen.

The regulations for the use of nitrogen for organic production were created for terrestrial farming and don’t take into considerations the specificity of aquatic farming such as spirulina. Indeed, to produce spirulina, farmers need to add a water-soluble form of phosphorus and nitrogen. In traditional farming, this is something you’d want to avoid as the soluble phosphorus and nitrogen can penetrate the soil and contaminate the ground water. This is not the case when farming spirulina because spirulina grow in lined ponds and closed circuit and there is no run off, hence no risk of contamination of ground water.

Traditionally, nitrate-rich guano coming from the coasts of Chili and Peru was the go to nutrients for all organic farmers, including spirulina farmers. However, in 2005, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted to disallow the use of guano because it is mined and therefore not considered a sustainable source of nitrogen.

Spiru de Tulear drying
Low heat spirulina drying in Madagascar

For a long time, no one was able to manufacture organic spirulina, but with the organic craze, more and more consumers began to demand organic spirulina. With new organic regulations the only viable sources of nitrogen allowed were fermented plant nitrogen (compost) or manures. This method is perfectly organic, however it also has two major disadvantages, 1) it can contaminate spirulina with lead or other heavy metals and 2) it greatly increase the number of bacteria in spirulina ponds and the medium become temporarily contaminated.

To remove the unwanted bacteria certain producers have a weapon of choice – heat.

By drying spirulina at high temperature, certain organic spirulina producers go around this problem, but this can impact the quality of the spirulina, especially with the content of phycocyanin (THE antioxidant found in spirulina). Certain farms produce spirulina with 5 or 10% of phycocyanin, whereas the best farms (with spirulina dried at low temperature with processes that respect the structure of the cells) can produce spirulina with content in phycocyanin up to 23%!

Beware that some companies extract Spirulina’s phycocyanin and sell it on the market as food colorant (it’s the only natural blue colorant, it’s for example used to color the blue M&M’s) or as potent antioxidant, and then still sell their spirulina without telling the consumers they have removed the phycocyanin. This how you get very cheap spirulina – that I would recommend to avoid.

Buy organic spirulina

So organic spirulina is not a guarantee of the quality. Some natural spirulina can be better for your health than organic spirulina.

To choose the best spirulina for you follow these easy steps:

  • The price is too good to be true? Well, there’s probably a reason for that. Don’t buy it.
  • Too little information on the label, no traceability for the product? Don’t buy it. You should see nutritional information like content of Vit A., D., K., Iron, etc.
  • The taste or smell seems “off”? Dry spirulina comes with a natural “Sea” smell and fresh spirulina doesn’t taste or smell anything. If the spirulina comes with a strong smell, a sweet, sour or unusual taste, don’t eat it!
  • The color is not perfectly green? Pure and fresh spirulina is a deep green, with no white or black specks in it. If the color is dull or non-uniform, these are lower quality spirulina.
  • Dry powder spirulina should be like flour. If it’s already wet or sticky don’t eat it, it has been compromised

I would recommend spending a little bit of your time to get to know the company you buy spirulina from. The company should be able to get in touch with the producer if anything goes wrong – like a local contact phone number, not only a re-seller email.

Here is what a fellow grower, Barrabill,  in New Zealand is saying about organic spirulina:

“When people ask me about the “organicness” of my product is say it is pre-Organics, I use the highest quality minerals/nutrients and cleanest water and air and have an extensive testing program.
That been said, I would always look were your spirulina produced as there is a major gulf between good spirulina and great spirulina and that is more to do with the Quality of the air,water and nutrient and culturing methods – it is likened to growing spirulina in a heavily polluted environment in a raceway or pond with the cheapest range of nutrients/minerals, than growing a culture in a pristine place with the highest quality nutrients/minerals in a sealed system.
To the consumer they feel comfort in having some quality branding even though it has vary little to do with the quality.”

To sum up – know the producer you buy from and make sure all the testing is available to you.

To follow our readers discussion head to our forum:

Organic Spirulina

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