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Aztec “superfood” Tecuitlatl makes comeback as Spirulina

Text and Photos ©2015 by J. Pint

Photo Gallery

Rodrigo Orozco straining Spirulina

 RodrigoOrozco uses a silk screen and squeegee to extract Spirulina from the liquid churning in one of his vats. The Aztecs used simpler techniques to gather what they called Tecuitlatl, or “rock poop.”

Spirulina in ice-cube trays

Naturalist Rodrigo Orozco spoons thick, green Spirulina into ice-cube trays for freezing.

Spirulina tablets

Spirulina also comes in tablet form. These are available in Jalisco from Rodrigo Orozco, cell (33-39-6878-05).

John Pint tries frozen Spirulina

 John Pint prepares to drop a frozen Spirulina cube into a glass of jamaica. He reports: “The jamaica completely masks the taste of the Spirulina.”

stromatolite found in Oman

This stromatolite, found in limestone near a cave in Oman, was formed by cyanobacteria 2.45 billion years ago. This makes Spirulina the oldest foodstuff on earth.


Caves beneath the dunes? Check out our Saudicaves page:







“Something green and slimy is growing in that vat!”

By John Pint
My neighbor, Rodrigo Orozco, is growing something green and slimy in four big vats in his back yard. Because he is also raising 5000 tarantulas (to outfox poachers) I wondered what sort of swamp creatures I might see crawling out of those vats, but Rodrigo assured me he was simply helping to reintroduce to Mexico a sort of food supplement used by the  Aztecs and other Mesoamericans before the Conquista and known to them as Tecuitlatl, which, I hate to say, Rodrigo translates as “rock poop.”

Now, before you try to leave this page, keep in mind that it was the indigenous peoples of Mexico who enjoyed the many benefits of Amaranth and Chía, two amazing superfoods that have only recently been rediscovered and made available commercially.

Well, here's a third. It's called Spirulina and although it looks like algae, it's something even more primitive. “I will explain everything,” said Rodrigo Orozco as he sat me and my wife down on a bench under a tall oak behind his house.

“Spirulina,” he began, “is a cyanobacterium, one of the oldest living things that exist on the planet and because it's able to do photosynthesis, it's green in color. It also produces oxygen, but, curiously, can only live in a very alkaline environment. Thousands of years ago, people in Africa and Mexico noticed it. In Mexico, the Aztecs, especially the runners, consumed it regularly. They harvested it by sticking long poles into certain very alkaline lakes and coating the poles with thick Tecuitlatl. This goo they made into little flat cakes which they dried. These cakes were common food in those days and are described by Diaz del Castillo in his book, The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico.

“Well, the Spaniards didn't like the look of this blue-green slime and drained many of the alkaline lakes where Spirulina grows naturally. So, like many other good native Mexican customs, eating Tecuitlatl came to an end after the Conquista and was forgotten.”

Orozco went on to describe how a curious event brought Spirulina production back to Mexico centuries later. In the 1970's, he says, a company called Sosa Texcoco, the biggest producer of sosa cáustica (caustic soda or lye) in the world, was working in El Lago de Texcoco and at an international convention, they complained to other colleagues in the business that they were having problems separating the lye from a pesky green substance growing in the highly alkaline lake. Hearing this, a Japanese scientist looked at them and said, “You are fools! That green stuff is much more valuable than lye. It's Arthrospira maxima, commonly called Spirulina.”

So, in the early 1970's, Sosa Texcoco gave birth to the company Spirulina Mexicana, which quickly ended up becoming the world's largest producer of Spirulina. But the company was a co-op and suffered from organizational and other problems and eventually went broke. “And that,” said Orozco with a wry look, was the end of modern production of Spirulina in Mexico.” Today, he says, the biggest producers are in the USA, South America and Europe.

Hothouse for growing Spirulina - Photo by J. PintAfter listening to this revealing lecture, Rodrigo Orozco led us into a kind of hothouse with clear plastic roof and walls, which he maintains at a temperature of 40 degrees C. The Spirulina grows in four large vats full of water to which chemicals have been added to make it alkaline. “I never have to replace the water,” he says. “I just keep it moving with pumps.”

Daylight keeps the Spirulina growing and when it's dense enough, Orozco runs the water through a silkscreen frame and spoons the green scum into ice-cube trays which he then freezes. To get your daily ration, you just drop one cube into a glass of juice and drink up.

“So, what are the benefits of drinking this?” I asked as I plopped a green ice cube into a glass of jamaica (hybiscus juice). “Well,” said Orozco, it's merely the richest source of protein on the entire planet. Beef and soybeans are nothing in comparison. Then, it also contains all the amino acids that humans need, as well as iron, calcium, magnesium, Beta-carotene and the entire B-group of vitamins.”

Orozco says Spirulina gives him energy, regulates his metabolism, improves his attitude, tones up his immune system and burns away unneeded body fat. He relates it has made people he knows with cancer and diabetes much stronger and more able to deal with their problem. Others say it helps them fight everything from acne to aging.

One of the most prominent promoters of Spirulina is Jean-Paul Jourdan, a French professor of History and author of the book Grow Your Own Spirulina. Fascinated with this miraculous micro-algae, Jourdan spent more than 12 years working on the development of low-cost techniques for Spirulina production in Africa. It should be noted, by the way, that Spirulina is the only foodstuff ever approved by the United Nations for fighting malnutrition. Jourdan demonstrated that people anywhere could make a hole in the ground, seal it with plastic, fill it with water, and make the water alkaline with easy-to-find ingredients such as urine and rusty iron.

While working in Oman, I was shown stromatolites in the limestone. These I was told were the oldest fossils in the world. Now, thanks to my enterprising neighbor, I've learned that those fossils were produced by microbial mats, mostly composed of cyanobacteria, which, it seems are credited with changing the atmosphere of the earth hundreds of millions of years ago from 1 percent to around 20 percent, as it is today. So, I can't disagree with my neighbor Rodrigo when he says, “¡Como la Spirulina, no hay nada más! – There is simply nothing else quite like Spirulina.

Spirulina not only comes as ice cubes, but is also available in tablet form. If you live in Guadalajara or near Lake Chapala, you can get Spiral Spring brand tablets from Rodrigo Orozco by calling his cell (33-39-6878-05) and, yes, he does speak English.


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