Add to collection
  • + Create new collection
  • Rights: Showdown Productions
    Published 27 September 2022 Referencing Hub media

    Tahi Spirulina is the only New Zealand-based producer of spirulina. Using French artisan methods, the company is growing the nutrient-dense cyanobacteria as a food product.

    Note: In this video clip, Professor Benoit Guieysse refers to spirulina as a microalgae. Spirulina is frequently referred to as an algae due to its history of classification and a confusing common name. Scientifically, it is classified as a cyanobacteria.


    Roger Bourne

    NZ Algae Innovations Ltd operates a spirulina farm using a French artisan-style cultivation method under the Tahi Spirulina brand. The company has received a significant MPI grant from the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund to assess the viability of scaling up production systems and processes from the current 400 m² production unit to a commercial pilot of around 6,000 m².

    Professor Benoit Guieysse

    It came out as, as part of my research here at Massey University, that we were making this mathematical model to predict the productivity and the environmental impacts of algae all over the world. And then when we start to run these models, we found that the weather, the climatic conditions of New Zealand were always very good. You had the right balance between good growth but not so much environmental impact and access to good water quality and so on.

    So I was always looking for an opportunity in that space, and spirulina is a bit of a low-hanging fruit because there is already a market – there is some consumer awareness, it’s been used for decades, it’s been shown to be safe – and among all the algae, it is relatively easy to produce and harvest. One of the reasons we can operate in New Zealand is because it has been classified as being native, so it has been documented in the wild in New Zealand and you can probably spend a bit of time and look for it, if you know where to look.

    Spirulina was classified as an aquatic organism, so under this classification, we have some regulatory requirements from MPI, and it’s really more about biohazards you know – type of hazards. Within – if you produce a food of course, you’re working under the Food Act, so you also have a range of requirements under this Act. And of course, as you produce, you will consume water and you will discharge wastewater and you will also have some regulatory constraints under this Act as well.

    In the simplistic way, there are two models there for how to grow spirulina. You have the big, large open-scale, open-sky, open-pond model, and that’s the one that’s being used probably to produce 99% of the spirulina being consumed today. We went for the second model, which is what we call the French artisan model, and that model is a bit more focused on quality versus quantity. So the farms are smaller, and especially the raceway ponds that I use to grow spirulina are located inside a greenhouse, and that really prevents atmospheric pollution, especially from birds. It also prevents evaporation, so a better environmental credential. The second aspect of that model is that we dry at very low temperature – it’s a dehydration process – and that preserves all the nutritional value of the spirulina.

    Spirulina is a type of algae, so it grows using carbon dioxide and photosynthesises it into its biomass. What you need to provide is the minerals – like nitrogen, phosphate and all the other minerals that, that spirulinas need to thrive. And so we provide that in the form of salt, so there are recipes that we use.

    First, you need to start the cultivation from lab cultures, and each time you got to, you know, multiply them 10 times, so there’s a long process until you get to the 30 m³ ponds, and then you’ve got to let the culture grow and establish itself and be nice and healthy. So that’s a little bit of a process there – it takes a few weeks. Once you get there, you harvest on a regular basis. So on the day of the harvest, the first thing you do is you filtrate a large amount of the liquid, and the biomass gets trapped on the top of the filter. At this stage, it looks very much like a gel because it’s still full of water. The spirulina, it makes filaments, and so when they’re filtered, they, they bridge like this, and you get plenty of water trapped between these filaments.

    For the next stage we need to do, which is very important for, for saving a lot of energy or electricity in the process, is to squeeze that water out. And so we have a press, we squeeze the water out, and then you get something that looks like playdough. And we take that playdough – now the water is contained, it’s inside the cell, so pressing is now not helping any more – and so you extrude this and dry it or dehydrate it. And that’s when you get all the water out. And then after that if you want, then you can powder this and blend it or put it into tablets.

    And so I think some people they find it a little bit unusual.

    Mahalee Guieysse

    But you actually you know, see the spirulina there.

    Our core market is really people who are on a journey to improve their health and wellbeing through high-value nutrition. Spirulina is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. It’s packed with antioxidants, beta carotene, chlorophyll, phycocyanin. And it’s a plant-based protein so it’s got all your complete essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals – the list goes on really. And it’s awesome because it’s something that the whole family can really enjoy.

    One of the incredible things about spirulina as well is that it is a really high source of iron. So it’s got in just one heaped teaspoon – that’s about 6 grams – it’s got about 72% of your recommended daily intake for iron. So that’s incredible for a lot of things and for a lot of different people out there trying to find that extra nutrition boost to incorporate in their daily diet.

    We are now up to five products, so that’s quite a big leap for us, going from one to five in less than 2 years’ time. So right now, we’re really just working hard to get our products out there on the shelves, to grow that brand awareness and really introduce people to the ease and kind of versatility of our products, of our product range. So it’s not just for smoothies any more. Spirulina goes everywhere for us. It’s fabulous and, you know mixed, in hummus and yoghurt. And it’s fabulous in muesli bars. We make pesto with it. So it’s really an easy, versatile product.

    Professor Benoit Guieysse

    We’re very small at the moment, and it’s not a very profitable proposition. So we need to grow, and we can – there’s still a lot we can do domestically based on spirulina. And you know to grow, we also need to diversify a little bit, and at the moment, we’re diversifying around spirulina. So our short to medium term is to grow based on spirulina, domestically and very quickly reaching – also starting to export because we really want to be an export-driven industry to contribute to New Zealand economy.

    The, the next phase in the medium to long term would be starting to diversify even away from food. Still keep the spirulina business, but we are very interested in looking at different algae and very different applications – not only food but cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, yeah.

    Video clip courtesy of Showdown Productions.

        Go to full glossary
        Download all