Tag Archives: Superfood Sundays

Superfood Sunday: A Little Kelp from my Friends

Ok, so spirulina isn’t exactly kelp. It’s technically Arthrospira platensis, a blue-green freshwater algae, but “a little cyanobacteria from my friends” didn’t have the same ring.

Up until the late 16th century, Spirulina was believed to have been harvested from Lake Texcoco by the Aztecs, who called it techuitlatl. Across the Atlantic, the Kanembu population along the shores of Lake Chad collected algae and dried it in the sun before mixing it into sauces, millet, beans, fish, or meat. European phycologists and botanists noticed its usage during expeditions in the middle of the 20th century, and in the 1970s, it gained popularity among researchers as a possible inexpensive protein source.

Spirulina PowderThis blue-green algae, which arrived on my doorstep in a cheery orange package a few weeks ago, joins the cadre of superfoods with exhaustive beneficial qualities, if its proponents are to be believed. It is a source of B vitamins, iron, and dietary protein, making it popular in both its powder and pill forms. Some experiments have shown that spirulina increases the body’s production of cytokines, which fight infections and colds.

Other studies show that it worked as an antihistamine in rats and that it killed cancerous cells in chickens. However, experts are cautious about downing algae like Jacques from Finding Nemo.

Image courtesy of Disney and Pixar

Other doctors have noted that the benefits of spirulina are negligible at best, and that one would do better to eat a piece of fruit instead. Most of the warnings, however, center around the lack of regulation.

Spirulina isn’t currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and because it grows on the top of water, it is highly susceptible to contamination. Sincerely hoping I wasn’t poisoning myself for the sake of a blog post, I spooned out some of my spirulina powder for a taste.

It has a similar odor to the wheatgrass I sampled before – and haven’t touched since – so I was a little wary. My powder was very finely ground and highly pigmented, like someone had crumbled up a blue-green chalk pastel. This did not help my poisoning suspicions. Despite their similar odors, however, spirulina and wheatgrass don’t share much in the way of taste. Mixed with a little bit of water, spirulina takes on a distinct seaweed flavor, unsurprising given its origins. Although I am a fan of all types of seaweed, especially when it’s wrapped around sushi, my fellow food adventurers were not so enthused. When I decided to mix up a salad dressing, I thoroughly enjoyed its tangy, briny taste, but my mother and sister were not so enthused.

I have included the recipe anyway, in case you get your hands on a big bag of algae!

Spirulina dressing
I promise it gets more visually appealing when you whisk it!

2 tbsp. hummus
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. water
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. spirulina powder
1/4 tsp. dill weed
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
a few drops of liquid sweetener, if desired.

Whisk ingredients together and pour over a grain salad (perhaps one with hemp seeds).


Superfood Sunday: Going Goji

I’ll admit it openly: chia seeds are now in my grocery rotation.  After my last happy surprise, I decided to focus this Superfood Sunday on a product I’ve been interested in for a while.

dried goji berries

The goji berry, also known as Lycium barbarum and wolfberry, comes from an Asian shrub found in China, Mongolia, and Tibet.  Like tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants, they’re members of the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family.  They have been used for centuries in Asia for medicinal purposes, and herbalists claim they can do anything from protecting the liver to balancing hormones.  The goji berry is packed with antioxidants like beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, which protect the eye by absorbing blue light and can decrease the risk of developing macular degeneration with age.

Left to right: goji, craisin, raisin

Violently red, they’re usually available in dried form, like the ones I found at Whole Foods.  In traditional Chinese medicine, they’re eaten raw, brewed into tea, or added into soups.  Recent years have introduced goji juice as well as other treats like goji trail mixes.  Although I was tempted by the bag of chocolate covered goji, I persevered in my pursuit of their purest available form.  Goji berries have a taste similar to dried cherries or cranberries, with a combination of sweetness and a tart finish.  Tarter than a raisin, and much less plump, they’re easy to sprinkle into salads, cereal, or baked goods.  If you find yourself with a bag of these berries, try out this recipe:

Banana Goji Muffins

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tablespoons ground flax
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened plant-based milk
  • 2 Tablespoons applesauce
  • 2 very ripe bananas
  • round 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 tablespoons (or more!) dried goji berries
  • rounded 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mash the bananas well, working out all the lumps.
Mix together all of the ingredients, adding baking soda last.  Line muffin pans with liners. Then, fill each muffin with batter to the rim. Bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on the size of your muffin tin. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and enjoy, perhaps with some goji juice!


Superfood Sunday: Ch-ch-ch-Chia Seeds

I don’t wear Birkenstocks.  I don’t make my own granola, I’m not a raw foodist, and I have never subscribed to Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP Newsletter.  In fact, I pride myself on a healthy suspicion of food and diet fads.  But this summer, I decided to delve into the strange world of superfoods.  A superfood, although not strictly defined, generally is considered especially nutritious or beneficial to health and well-being.  From what I can tell, the more ancient cultures it’s associated with, the more “super” a food is; if the Mayans ate it, you should be eating it too.

Raw chia seeds

Fittingly, my first superfood, chia seeds, actually come from the Salvia hispanica plant, which was grown in Mexico dating back to the ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures.  Perhaps their biggest benefit is the high concentration of fiber and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to reduce inflammation.  Unlike flax seeds, another common source of omega-3s, chia seeds do not need to be ground for our bodies to take advantage of their benefits.  They also avoid another pitfall of ground flax–they don’t go rancid.  This superconcentrated source of nutrients has come back into fashion, overcoming its embarrassing image in the ‘80s, when it brought the world the Chia Pet.  I tried to ignore the image of my stomach sprouting a green Mohawk as I stirred the seeds into a bowl of water, let them sit, and then came back to give them a try.

They don’t add much real taste, per se, but their texture is what makes them remarkable and useful.  When put in water or other liquid, the seeds expand into little balls of gel.  This gives any chia-thickened liquid a tricky consistency: not quite chewy, not quite smooth, and dotted with tiny black crunchy seed hulls.  If you learn to like the texture, though, look for plain chia seeds at your local health food store, or try one of the many energy bars or juices touting chia seeds as an ingredient.  Need ideas for preparing chia?  Fulfill your chocolate cravings in a healthier way with some pudding.

Chia Pudding

Chocolate Chia Pudding

For a single serving:

½ cup unsweetened nondairy milk like almondmilk

½ tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cocoa powder

½ tsp maple syrup, or more to taste

1 ½ tablespoons chia seeds

Top with berries, orange slices, or lemon zest for garnish.

For other flavors, try adding: cinnamon and chili powder, almonds and banana with almond extract, or any other fruit.


  1. Whisk together milk, vanilla, and cocoa powder and add sweetener to taste.  Keep whisking until cocoa is completely incorporated.
  2. Pour the mixture into a bowl and add the chia seeds, keeping in mind that the chia will expand and add volume.
  3. Stir well, making sure the seeds are moistened.  Leave at room temperature, stirring every 15 minutes or so to break up any clusters that form.
  4. Let stand until the pudding has thickened to the desired texture, at least one hour.
  5. Refrigerate until ready to serve.