News / Asia

    Bangkok Hotel Takes Algae from Rooftop to Buffet

    Bangkok Hotel Takes Algae from Rooftop to Buffet i
    X
    September 24, 2013 5:04 PM
    The rooftop of a hotel in Thailand has been turned into an unusual farm for freshwater algae. Proponents tout the aquatic single-celled organism as a superfood for both advanced countries and the developing world. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
    On his flaming wok, a chef in a Bangkok hotel is adding an unusual ingredient to several dishes that will be set out on the buffet.

    It is a nutritional algae, known as spirulina, cultivated just steps away on the hotel's rooftop 27 stories above Siam Square.

    “It helps to give you some energy, replacing the coffee,” said Manuel Reymondin, the resident manager of the Novotel on Siam Square.

    Reymondin has become a daily consumer of spirulina, using it as a substantial protein source in place of red meat.

    The hotel's spa also relies on the blue-green algae's anti-inflammatory properties for gooey therapeutic treatments.

    Spirulina is given to hospital patients undergoing radiation treatment or others having trouble eating normally because the vitamin-rich cyanobacterium is easy to digest.

    The rooftop project growing spirulina also has become a centerpiece for the Novotel's parent (Accor) company’s social responsibility mission.

    "It is a product which is easily lovable. When you see it you basically adopt it, such as we did. Before we started the spirulina project most of us didn't know really what it was," said Reymondin.

    From African lakes to Thai rooftops

    Energaia, a fledgling local for-profit enterprise, introduced spirulina to the hotel, based on its ability to grow in the center of urban Bangkok.

    These are starkly different surroundings from the ancient aquatic organism’s natural habitat. Once only found in abundance in a few lakes in such places as the African nation Chad, Burma and in Mexico.

    There are no global large-scale producers of spirulina. China and India are the two largest countries cultivating the algae, followed by Thailand and the United States.

    It is now thriving in “bio-reactors” in Bangkok devised by American Derek Blitz. The system relies on sunlight for photosynthesis, circulating fresh alkaline water and a bit of starter algae carried in laboratory test tubes from a Bangkok breeding ground.

    Energaia, after years of research and development utilizing four staff micro-biologists, is producing 80 to 100 kilograms of spirulina weekly utilizing 130 square meters on the Novotel's flat roof.

    Rooftops of high-rise buildings are ideal for this kind of farming. There is available and affordable space. And the sunlight and heat, in a city such as Bangkok, mean the crop grows quickly.

    "We're pursuing hotels and other organizations that have empty rooftop space,” said Blitz. “And we can utilize that space to produce healthy food in the city for the residents of the city. And that organization can benefit from having access to that to use within their own businesses, as well as the perception of the public that they're doing something good."

    • Energaia workers inspect some of the bio-reactors growing spirulina on the rooftop of a Bangkok hotel, Sept. 24, 2013. (S.L. Herman/VOA)
    • Freshly harvested spirulina is placed in jars to be sold to customers in in Bangkok, Sept. 24, 2013. (S.L. Herman/VOA)
    • Spirulina is applied for a facial treatment in a Bangkok hotel's spa, Sept. 24, 2013. (S.L. Herman/VOA)
    • The single-celled bacteria is purported to have anti-inflammatory properties making it desirable for skin treatments, Bangkok, Sept. 23, 2013. (S.L. Herman/VOA)
    • Salad dressings are among the items made from fresh spirulina at the buffet in a restaurant at the Novotel on Siam Square in Bangkok, Sept. 23, 2013. (S.L. Herman/VOA)
    • Production costs prevent fresh spirulina from being a cheap, alternative source of protein in the developing world, Bangkok. (S.L. Herman/VOA)

    A food for all, if production costs come down

    Spirulina requires less water than just about any terrestrial crop and has the added advantage of growing on non-arable land.

    Energaia, which expects to shortly utilize two more rooftops in Bangkok for growing spirulina, has ambitions beyond the Thai capital.

    "We could take and containerize this system so it's ready to go and allow organizations to leverage our technology to develop food within communities that struggle,” explains Blitz.

    Research indicates spirulina may aid sufferers of a host of ailments, including allergies and arthritis. But production costs are currently too high to make this highly nutritious food affordable for most of those in the developing world.

    In Bangkok, 100 grams of fresh spirulina costs $5, which means that it is mainly bought by people with ample disposable income who consume it as a nutritional supplement.

    "We prefer to provide it in fresh form... as it's easier to cook with and add to any meal," says Energaia founder Saumil Shah, an aerospace engineer by training. "We've been able to get shelf life up to three or four weeks."

    Any product that doesn't sell at retail outlets is replaced by Energaia and turned into a powder which has a shelf life of several years.

    Shah revealed to a group at the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration of Chulalongkorn University that his company is also working to create protein-rich but low calorie foods containing spirulina, such as fish snacks and paste. A 100 gram jar of spirulina paste sold by Energaia contains only about 20 calories.

    Shah acknowledges not everyone is an instant convert to spirulina, despite its many attributes.

    “It looks green, it looks different. Not everybody can get over that and taste it," he said.

    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    You May Like

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Rico C from: Bangkok, Thailand
    September 24, 2013 11:39 AM
    excellent.

    Coincidentally, I live in Bangkok and have been a regular consumer of spirulina for 30 years. Before retiring, I worked in heavy industry for many years and it allowed me to out work men half my age, in spite of my less than healthy life style.

    First introduced to USA by the late Dr Christopher Hills via the Light Force Company (a MLM organization which was later taken over by Royal Body Care). After his retirement as a spice trader he sought out a super food to feed this planet's hungry. He encountered spirulina in alkaline lakes in Africa, it was sold in caked form in the local market places there. He contracted with Mexican government to import it to USA. Finally building state of the art tanks in Palm Springs, California to have a pure, reliable source.

    Spirulina is true super food. It contains an array of B Vitamins as well as a subtle sugar; ram-nose. It can be harvested every three days (compare that to any other crop). Carried by ancient Inca and Aztec warriors as a light weight energy source. It provides energy but not the jittery type. It will not replace sleep. Introduce it to your system gradually, to avoid the cleansing side effects (headache and acne). The higher up the food chain your diet, the more work your body does to digest it. Being at the bottom of the food chain, spirulina flip flops into your system. Spirulina is one of the few things on earth that lives up to its hype. Do yourself a favor and incorporate it into your diet/life.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.