What Is Spirulina?

updated May 30, 2019
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My favorite local bar recently added a Unicorn Frosé to its cocktail menu, possibly as some kind of trap to catch its regulars. Because I’m one of them, I asked one of the bartenders if it had spirulina in it. She had to ask two of the other bartenders, and the consensus was no, but they weren’t sure, because they didn’t know what spirulina was.

They’re not alone. Spirulina has very quietly been part of some of this year’s biggest food trends, and most of us didn’t even notice it on the ingredient lists.

So, What Is Spirulina?

Any number of aesthetically pleasing pastel foods — like some mermaid toasts, rainbow ice creams, and even Starbucks’ own Unicorn Frappuccino — use spirulina to provide those signature blue and green shades. (Not all of them, though; there’s still plenty of good ol’ fashioned food coloring out there.)

But spirulina is more than just an Instagrammable color boost to otherwise unremarkable foods. This blue-green algae is a complete protein source. It’s also low in fat and sodium and jam-packed with antioxidants. Researchers from the United Kingdom and Greece have suggested that spirulina “may even have anticancer, antiviral, and antiallergic effects.”

Although spirulina has obviously gotten the GOOP treatment, it has also been a key part of a program to combat malnutrition in India and has been used as a dietary supplement for NASA astronauts.

Buy It: If you’re not being fitted for your space suit, you’ll have to acquire your own spirulina, either in tablet or powder form.

Some people mix spirulina powder into their smoothies and shakes, but after trying and failing to down more than one well-blended glass of it, I opted to take my spirulina in capsule form.

It may have been because I knew what to expect (or what I was hoping to expect?), but after a few days of taking 3,000 milligrams of spirulina, I felt more energetic, slept more soundly, and think that maybe even my weekly allergy shots were less itchy afterward.

What I did not expect was the green poop. Because spirulina is rich in chlorophyll — duh, just look at it — your poop will look like you have killed and eaten the Jolly Green Giant. It’s not as immediately terrifying as, like, looking into the toilet after you drink beet juice, but it can be a surprise if, like me, you weren’t prepared for it.

Regardless, a nutritional supplement has never been more enjoyable than the time I swallowed my spirulina with a mouthful of Unicorn Frosé.

Have you heard of spirulina?