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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Goodbye Ketchup, Hello Sriracha!

    How immigrants are triggering a great transformation in American cuisine

    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.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora