There was a time when North Americans might have bristled at putting seaweed in their mouths, in the days before nori made its way to these shores. Today, nori, and its compatriot sushi, are ever-present.
Now, one man is trying to bring another marine food to the masses, and this time, it’s … phytoplankton
Thanks to New Brunswick-based Blugenics Innovations Ltd, it has turned what is already a food for krill, shrimp, and whales, into perhaps the newest “superfood” for human consumption.
Also known as the original microalgae, it’s packed with omega fatty acids, vitamins A, C, D and K, beta carotene, dietary fibre, antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, selenium, iron and protein.
David Hunter (pictured), the driving force behind this revolutionary product, was inspired to produce phytoplankton after hearing of its powerful effects.
His inspiration came from Tom Harper, who ran a B.C. shellfish farm, who had cultivated phytoplankton, because he thought it would be a natural feed for shellfish sold to high-end restaurants.
When he fed the shellfish the phytoplankton, they grew twice the size. The story, however, became a little bit deeper. To see whether it would help his health, Harper ate the phytoplankton, and claims it was responsible for alleviating his diabetes.
And yet, the story becomes even deeper. Not long after, Harper was diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer, which would eventually require surgical lung incisions. Again, he ate the phytoplankton, just to see what would happen.
Doctors at the operating table, to their amazement, noticed the cancer had been staved off, according to Hunter. It seemed too much a coincidence to shrug off.
“So, he gave me some of the phytoplankton to try myself, and I ate it, and it pretty much changed my life overnight,” said Hunter, explaining that his lifelong allergies and migraines have been non-existent since that day.
Tom later sold his interest in the business, but Hunter was determined, scouring the Internet to find where phytoplankton could be grown sustainably, and mass produced, leading him to a man named Carlos Unamunzaga, in Cadiz, Spain, who had been growing the marine food for ornamental aquariums, at Fitoplancton Marino.
“He thought it was kind of interesting because he was trying to sell his phytoplankton to the aquarium market, and then all of a sudden this guy from Canada calls him and says, ‘I think it is medicine, and I’m going to eat it,’” joked Hunter.
His late mother, as a nurse, helped people recover from their health conditions, seemed a fitting homage to call the new product after her, Karen, and “because ‘marine phytoplankton’ is pretty unsexy to market.”
The first “guinea pig” given the mixture was a pharmacist in Sackville, New Brunswick, who eschewed his Pepto Bismol for acid reflux, for Karen. It worked so well that he bought a ton – $5,000 worth, and purchased Karen for seven of his stores.
After its launch in 2015, it took just two years for Karen to be the fastest and best selling nutritional supplement among distributors, with $2 million in sales. Among the regular users are NHL players, marathon runners, bodybuilders, and other athletes. Currently the most popular consumers are seniors and mothers with young kids for energy.
According to Hunter, those who have consumed Karen have claimed it has also minimized the symptoms of digestive issues, arthritis, migraines, and skin issues.
Approved by Health Canada, Karen is cultivated in a state-of-the-art facility, certified according to strict global food safety protocols HACCP and ISO 22,000. It is available in powder, tablets, and cosmetic lotion, in 3,500 locations in Canada including Shoppers Drug Mart, Rexall, London Drugs, PharmaPrix, I.DA, Pharmasave, Guardian pharmacies, and hundreds of Health Food Stores..
Meanwhile, one restaurateur has found an interesting use for it.
Best selling cookbook author, and proprietor of The Inn at Bay Fortune on Prince Edward Island, Chef Michael Smith, is using it in his recipes that call for a smoked oyster taste, therefore consumable by people with shellfish allergies.
Someday we may all be saying “Mmmm! Algae!”