Food

Azolla is widely used as a livestock feed in India and the Far East, but its potential as a food for people is less well known.  This is now changing and some of the impetus has come from studies into diets that could be used for space stations, space travel, and habitation on the Moon and Mars.

Azolla is ideally suited for use as a food in space travel within controlled ecological life support systems (CELSS) due to the limited amount of available space in these habitats and the zero or low gravity. It only needs shallow freshwater less than an inch (2.4 cm) deep, so that it can be grown in multi-layered frames that require less space than other plants.

For example, Katayama and a group of other Japanese and Chinese scientists evaluated possible diets for Mars colonies (Katayama et al., 2008). They concluded that rice, soybean, sweet potato and a green-yellow vegetable could provide the basic vegetarian menu, with Azolla, silkworm pupa and loach providing the protein needed to meet human nutritional requirements.

Azolla’s protein content

Azolla’s protein content is close to that of soybean (e.g., Liu et al., 2008a, b) and other studies on Azolla’s use as a livestock feed confirm this.  These include:

Azolla’s high protein value was confirmed in 2012 by Erik Sjödin in his book ‘The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project’:

“Azolla’s nutritional value is similar to that of Alfalfa sprouts and Spirulina – a dietary supplement made from the cyanobacterium Arthrospira. It is a rich source of minerals (10-15% of dry weight), essential amino acids (7-10% of dry weight), vitamins and carotenoids. 20 – 30% of Azolla’s dry weight is protein, which is a lot for a vegetable. The quality of the protein in Azolla is good, although there are some deficiencies of the amino acids methionine, histidine and lysine. Two to five percent of Azolla’s dry weight is nitrogen.”

Azolla recipes

Erik Sjödin included several recipes developed by him that use Azolla as the main ingredient, including Azolla soup, Azolla burgers, Azolla pancakes, Azolla hardtack, Azolla balls, and Azolla bread.

Azolla bread baked by Erik Sjödin at Wysing Arts Center in England

Azolla bread baked by Erik Sjödin at Wysing Arts Center in England

Azolla pancakes cooked by Erik Sjödin at Halikonlahti Green Art at Salo Art Museum in Finland

Azolla pancakes cooked by Erik Sjödin at Halikonlahti Green Art at Salo Art Museum in Finland

His book is highly recommended because it makes an important contribution by showing how Azolla could help feed the world’s enormous human population, whilst highlighting the need for more research into this potential food source.

 

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