Antenna Technologies France, the company behind Siem Reap’s first spirulina farm, will launch a new range of health supplements in tablet form next month.
Until now, the product has been marketed as ‘sprinkles’ and in a powdered form, but the new tablets should make it easier to integrate into everyday dietary routines. Plus the tablet form means that it can be sold in pharmacies as well as health food outlets.
“We were a little concerned that this would in a sense ‘medicalise’ the taking of spirulina, which is not what we are about,” said Laetitia Houdart, Cambodia representative for Antenna. “But it is what people want, so we can do it.”
People take the blue-green algae for its dense vitamin, mineral, protein and nutrient content and its perceived health benefits, which include boosting the immune system, increasing energy levels, improving digestion and combatting anaemia.
Katie Letheren is the founder of the Healthy Eating Active Living Siem Reap Facebook group. She is a health blogger, trained in plant-based nutrition, and is a huge fan of spirulina.
“I love it!” she told Insider, adding. “Spirulina is a superfood as it is a fantastic mixture of protein, antioxidants, digestive enzymes, phytonutrients, B vitamins and chlorophyll.
“It is literally jam packed with so many nutrients that it will give your body an amazing boost of energy, without having to resort to chemical-filled energy fixes like soda and red bull.”
A 2008 Food and Agriculture Organisation report notes not only the plant’s exceptional nutritional benefits, but also the role it can play as a solution to global malnutrition, in environmental mitigation and in livelihood development.
Production is a highly technical process, requiring careful monitoring of water levels, PH levels, salinity, temperature, humidity, as well as the colour and density of the plant in the tanks.
The plant is grown in outdoor tanks fitted with long-armed stirrers designed to keep the water moving and the plant as equally exposed to as much sunlight as possible.
Once it is harvested, the dark green ‘sludge’ is carefully packed into synthetic cloths, and pressed to squeeze out as much moisture as possible. It is then squeezed into thin ‘spaghettis’ on a rack constructed to fit inside the drying ovens. This must be carefully managed so as not to ‘cook’ the spirulina and strip it of its nutritional value. Finally it is processed into sprinkles or powder, or now tablet form.
Antenna has a plant in Kandal province and established a farm in Siem Reap three years ago. It estimates it has invested $160,000 into the two farms to date.
In Siem Reap, a local family has been trained to harvest the plant from a series of four 100 square metre tanks that were built on the family’s land. Another two tanks have been constructed and will shortly go into production, which should bring the family’s yield up to one tonne per year.
Antenna guarantees that it will purchase between 70 – 90 per cent of that crop.
Spirulina’s benefits have also been noted by the beauty industry where, incorporated into creams and scrubs, it has been vaunted for its anti-aging and purifying properties.
Siem Reap-based development consultant, Kristen Davis, uses it in her products which she markets under the brand Lotus Lily and sells through outlets such as Wild Poppy, Navutu Dreams and Rose Apple Guest House.