Jivamukti’s Spirulina Millet
January 21, 2014

spirulina millet 3

This is not the first time I’ve written about Jivamukti Cafe in NYC, and the food it inspires. That warm, cozy space also sparked my recipe for turmeric tahini dressing, which is now a favorite. The cafe, which is attached to Jivamukti Yoga School, serves hearty and healthy vegan fare, including protein rich vegan salads (like the “Montana,” which has warm black beans, quinoa, & avocado, or the “Diablo,” which has grilled seitan, brown rice, & kalamata olives, or the spicy tempeh, which is what it sounds like), juices, teas, raw and cooked soups, burritos, mix and match bowls, and (I love this) an entire menu of toasts, on which you can bet avocado toast features prominently. It’s a great place to grab lunch, sit and sip tea, or nibble on a bowl of warm grains and read.

Jivamukti also happens to be one of the spots where Brendan and I tend to go for catch ups and conversations. A while back, I noticed that he always ordered the spirulina millet with turmeric tahini dressing. I was a little skeptical of this selection; I don’t love spirulina, and I was certain the dish would taste like the bottom of a pond. It doesn’t at all, a fact that surprises me even more now that I’ve made the recipe and know that it calls for five whole tablespoons of spirulina (which is a lot! I usually only put a teaspoon into smoothies, if I use it at all). It is mildly salty, nutty (thanks to flax oil), and absolutely delicious. It has taken me too long to make the recipe at home, but now that I have, I’m certain that it’s going to be a regular staple for me.

A word about spirulina: it is a type of blue green algae, which was used as a food source by the Aztecs until the 16th century. I’ve heard it touted as a potential cure for cancer, hypertension, high cholesterol, candida overgrowth, and even HIV/AIDS. One popular natural health website presents it thus: “Imagine a plant that can nourish your body by providing most of the protein you need to live, help prevent the annoying sniffling and sneezing of allergies, reinforce your immune system, help you control high blood pressure and cholesterol, and help protect you from cancer. Does such a “super food” exist? Yes. It’s called spirulina.”

Here’s the good news about spirulina: it’s a complete protein (containing all of the amino acids essential for human life), and it contains a great deal of protein by weight (some studies say 70%, though the average is closer to 60%). (1) In a number of laboratory and animal studies, it has been shown to have some antiviral and immunity boosting properties, and possibly even some action against mutagenicity (hence the implication that it might help to fight cancer). (2, 3) Preclinical and clinical studies have also shown that it may help to reduce lipid levels in the blood (and consequently prove to be a useful agent in lowering cholesterol). (4) A good number of preclinical studies have also shown that it may have an anti-inflammatory effect (5), and one human study suggested that it can possibly help to prevent muscle damage. (6) Of the therapeutic potential pointed to in preclinical trials, it seems that some of the most consistently promising results fall under the category of spirulina’s hypolipidemic (lipid lowering) properties, as well as it’s potential in immune system support. (7) The additional good news is that, in the clinical studies that do exist, dosage was often only 2 grams daily; a teaspoon of spirulina (at least according to my kitchen scale) is about 3 grams, so a 2 gram dosage is pretty realistic.

spirulina

In spite of the promising preclinical evidence, most review articles on spirulina state that a great deal more clinical research remains to help establish the benefits of spirulina in humans, as well as appropriate dosages and dosage frequency. Another thing to be wary of is that the claims about spirulina’s nutritional benefit can be misleading. Saying that spirulina is 60 or 70% protein by weight isn’t the same as saying it’s an ideal protein source; a full ounce (28 grams) of spirulina has 16 grams of protein. Which means that a teaspoon, which is a pretty average serving size, has less than 2 grams (very little). A full tablespoon has about 5 grams, which is more significant, and the fact that the protein in question is complete and easy to assimilate is certainly a good thing. But if you’re at all sensitive to the taste, a tablespoon of spirulina is a lot of spirulina. And while spirulina does contain vitamin B-12, it’s not a reliable source.

Spirulina is generally agreed to be safe and non-toxic. That said, it can be contaminated with toxins that aren’t safe. In the last fifteen years, some spirulina samples have been shown to be contaminated with myocystins, a type of toxin linked to liver cancer, though the amount detected was below the limit set by that state’s health department. (8) Another study detected a cyanotoxin with known neurotoxicity (9), and yet other studies have shown that samples in Japan and China have been contaminated with hepatotoxins (which affect the liver) (10). This means that quality control is paramount in sourcing the stuff. If you are interested in consuming it, it’s worth reading up on a company’s growing and harvesting practices, and asking a lot of questions. The spirulina I used in this recipe was sent to me by the lovely folks at Nuts.com. which has a description of their harvesting process on the site and quality assurance. Earthrise spirulina also has good feedback. Read up on it, and then make choices consciously. I’m not too worried about spirulina in my diet, as I don’t consume it daily or even weekly basis (though this millet recipe may change that). But if you do wish to consume it regularly, as a supplement, it’s worth being careful and chatting with a health care provider about it.

So, enough of the pros and cons and fine print. A pro of using spirulina is that it’s fun, it’s got a fantastic green hue, and it tastes marvelous in this millet recipe, which is a direct and only minimally modified adaptation of Sharon Gannon’s recipe, printed in Yoga Journal.

spirulina millet 2

Jivamukti’s Spirulina Millet

Author -
Yields: 4 -6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups millet dry
  • 3 1/4 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 5 tablespoons spirulina
  • 5 tablespoons flax oil
  • 2 tablespoons tamari coconut aminos or nama shoyu
  • 2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast

Instructions

  • 1. Place dry millet in a pot with water and bring to a boil. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape, and simmer gently for 30 minutes, or until the water is absorbed, and the millet is fluffy.
  • 2. Add the spirulina, flax oil, tamari, and nutritional yeast to the millet. Use your hands to mix it all up -- and be prepared for bright green palms!

If you like, you can serve the spirulina millet with my turmeric tahini dressing. It’s a perfect combination.

tt-dressing-1-1024x1024

I bet that the same combination (spirulina, flax, tamari) would work well with brown rice or quinoa. And I also bet it would be a delicious grain dressing even without the flourescent green stuff. Seriously — don’t wait till you have spirulina to make it. You could use the flax oil+tamari alone, or I bet you could even experiment with using some hemp protein in the recipe in place of spirulina. The possibilities abound.

Enjoy the food, and the factoids, and have a great night, everyone. If you’re snowed under, stay warm. We didn’t have a snow day at the physician’s office where I work, but I did get to come home and watch the snow fall all night, which was peaceful and lovely.

xo

1. Ciferri O. “Spirulina, the edible microorganism”. Microbiol. Rev. 47 (4): 551–78. December 1983.

2. Chamorro-Cevallos G, Garduno-Siciliano L, Barron BL, Madrigal-Bujaidar E, Cruz-Vega DE, Pages N. Chemoprotective effect of Spirulina (Arthrospira) against cyclophosphamide-induced mutagenicity in mice. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008;46(2):567-74.

3. Mao TK, Van De Water J, Gershwin ME. Effect of spirulina on the secretion of cytokines from peripheral blood mononuclear cells. J Medicinal Food. 2000;3(3):135-139.

4. Deng R, Chow TJ. Hypolipidemic, antioxidant, and antiinflammatory activities of microalgae Spirulina. Cardiovasc Ther. 2010 Aug;28(4):e33-45. Review.

5. 53. Gemma C, Mesches MH, Sepesi B, Choo K, Holmes DB, Bickford PC. Diets enriched in foods with high antioxidant activity reverse age-induced decreases in cerebellar beta-adrenergic function and increases in proinflammatory cytokines. J Neurosci. 2002;22:6114–6120.

6. Lu HK, Hsieh CC, Hsu JJ, Yang YK, Chou HN. Preventive effects of Spirulina platensis on skeletal muscle damage under exercise-induced oxidative stress. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2006 Sep;98(2):220-6.

7. Deng et al., 2010.

8. Gilroy, D., Kauffman, K., Hall, D., Huang, X., & Chu, F. (2000). “Assessing potential health risks from microcystin toxins in blue-green algae dietary supplements”. Environmental Health Perspectives 108 (5): 435–439.

9. Chamorro G, Salazar M, Salazar S. Teratogenic study of Spirulina in rats. Arch Latinoam Nutr. 1989;39:641–649.

10. Iwasa M, Yamamoto M, Tanaka Y, Kaito M, Adachi Y. Spirulina-associated hepatotoxicity. The American Journal of Gastroenterology 97, 3212-3213 (December 2002).

Categories: Small Plates

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    39 Comments
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  2. I am trying to figure how to get the same spirulina they serve at the restaurant. I thought it was fresh spirulina, but now looking at this recipe I am puzzled : was I wrong ? Do they only need to add spirulina powder to the millet to get the flavor/ texture ? It is possible to achieve that at home ? Thank you, wonderful post and great recipe

  3. I love spirulina and millet so I really want to try to make this! Is there any way I can use flax seed and olive oil instead of flax oil?

  4. Thank you for this post! I confess to knowing next to nothing about spirulina and I am so grateful for all the research you did! I’ll be adding spirulina to next week’s grocery list. I haven’t tried flax oil either, we buy flax seeds whole, keep them in the freezer and grind them up for smoothies and baking. I didn’t know flax oil had a distinctive flavor.

  5. It looks really crazy and fun, but I am also surprised that it isn’t as pond-like as I would have thought. I have leftover spiraling that I’ve avoided for a while. This seems to be the best thing to do! Thanks as usual for good timing on things I need to take care of!

  6. I adore the Jivamukti cafe! Its like this hidden oasis in the middle of union square…. Spirulina and i just don’t get along so well…. But that tumeric dressing sounds delightful!

    • Saniel, I would think that soaked millet is a bit too tough and indigestible. I haven’t tried it, so I can’t say for sure!

  7. I bought some “organic” spirulina last year, but I’m affraid to use it because it’s from China. I didn’t realize that when I bought, and it wasn’t cheap, so I haven’t thrown it away, but I’m still too nervous to use it. What’s your opinion? Do you think it’s OK, or should I chuck it and invest in a bag from the US? (Lesson learned; I always check the packaging or ask questions of origin now!)

    • Oh dear, I’m not sure, Veronica. I suspect you’d be alright, and not all spirulina from China is affected, don’t forget. But if you’re nervous, you may want to just give this batch up. I’m not sure what I’d do — sorry not to be more helpful!

  8. Thanks for the recipe, Gena! It looks… interesting, to say the least 🙂 I go through phases where I’ll suddenly want some spirulina and add extra to my smoothies, but that’s as far as it’s gone. Looking at the photo didn’t do it for me, but after reading your post, I’m intrigued… I’m going to have to give it a try! And I’ll definitely make your turmeric tahini dressing! Tahini dressing is my favorite, and I love the benefits of turmeric.

  9. I am trying both of these recipes (millet and dressing) asap! i actually love the taste of spirulina (I sprinkle it on my greens all the time) so this sounds right up my alley. Plus who doesn’t love a tahini dressing. So pumped!

  10. I want that in my belly. I love spirulina so much that I had to stop buying the tablets because a) I’m addicted to them in the same way most people wake up finding themselves knee-deep in a box of Oreos, and b) I was ceaselessly trying to get the green gunk out of my teeth.

    BUT IT IS SO GOOD.

    Also, chlorella. Such an expensive addiction. Worse addiction than spirulina.
    In heaven, I probably get a chlorella and peanut butter sammich. *smiles with green teeth*

  11. Yayaya! Love the evidence-based nature of this post, Gena. I wish I had more time to devote to posts like this.. but alas, there are so many hours in the day. Sometimes I think the best part of spirulina is its ability to turn things uber green.. muahaha! And oddly enough, looking at your recipe, it wasn’t the spirulina that jumped at me, it was the flax oil… because woah, while I like flax seeds, flax oil is much more unpalatable to me. It needs to be masked by LOTS OF FLAVOUR for me to eat it.

    • Lady, you’re out busy helping people. Please keep putting all your energy there 🙂 But I do love geeking out in these posts.

      I’m the opposite! LOVE flax oil — put it on anything/everything. Spirulina is a tough sell (as is, unrelatedly, maca). But this recipe gets it done. It would honestly be perfect with just nooch/flax oil/tamari though.

      • *hug* Oddly enough I LOVE maca! I wonder whether it is a maca taste specific gene.. you know, like the two genes for the smelly asparagus pee: 1 to make the smelly urine and 1 to smell the smelly urine. 😉

  12. Hi Gena, thanks for the lovely recipe and spirulina primer. I don’t pretend to be an expert in this area (I’m still learning, just like everyone else), but I do have to point out that a lot of the studies you use to cite spirulina’s effects and benefits involve animals.

    It seems to me that, above all other AR issues, vivisection seems to be an area in which the most devoted vegans waver. There is substantial evidence that animals studies are not predictive of human results, and treating rats and mice (among other animals) as “little humans” is a waste of time and money that could otherwise be used on more humane alternatives. Of course, everything is more complex than this, and I realize that the number of alternatives currently available is very small indeed. More info here: http://www.neavs.org/.

    I thought I’d bring this to your attention, though, because I know you appreciate the nuances of opinion in your readers. Thanks for all you do! xo

    • Molly,

      Thanks for the comment and your perspective. I don’t at all disagree that animal studies are often inconclusive or even misleading — that’s actually why I emphasized that they’re preclinical, and that more clinical studies are necessary to determine the legitimacy of the claims made.

      G

  13. Thank you for sharing this recipe! When I saw it on your Instagram, I was really curious how it was made. Spirulina is one superfood I’ve actually never bought. Weird. I’ve had it in things before, but always in products I’ve bought. I’ve never added it to anything on my own. Now’s the time! I’m so in love with the color. (Already thinking about possible St. Patrick’s day desserts I could make.)