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We think of spirulina as a superfood – and it sure is. But if superfood sounds trendy and contemporary, it’s also a historically important food. Spirulina has played an important role in the diets of indigenous people for centuries, from the Aztecs of Mexico to the Central African residents of Lake Chad.

In 1521, Bernal Diaz del Castillo (a member of Hernán Cortez’s troops) observed the Aztecs harvesting spirulina (which they called tecuitlatl) from Lake Texcoco, which had the perfect alkaline conditions for spirulina. They would harvest it with poles, dry it and produce little cakes, which he noted tasted a little like cheese. Their spirulina was sold as food in Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City).  Although like many indigenous foods and customs, harvesting and consumer spirulina ended after the Spanish conquistas, the first commercial production of spirulina started in Lake Texcoco in the 1970s.


Fast forward 500 years to the country of Chad in Central Africa, 1940, when a French scientist observed and reported on the practice of Kanembu women harvesting spirulina (which they called dihé) in the oases on the eastern side of Lake Chad. The harvest is filtered and sun-dried on shores of the lake, then cut into squares and returned to the village to finish drying on mats. It is used as a base for a traditional sauce eaten with everything from meat and fish to beans and rice. It is thought that this Kanembu foodway has been practiced for centuries.

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