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, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid