Sept. 23 - Urban algae farming is gaining a foothold in Bangkok with the rooftop of one big hotel supporting a small but flourishing algae industry. Algae is well known as a source of biofuel, but the species being cultivated on the roof of the Novotel produces Spirulina, a vitamin-rich, so-called ''superfood''. Tara Cleary reports.
The chefs at Bangkok's Novotel are bringing new flair to their cooking ... and incorporating a novel, green sensibility to their recipes at the same time, thanks to spirulina, an edible algae the hotel is growing in tanks on its roof. Manager, Manuel Reymondin calls it magic. SOUNDBITE: MANUEL REYMONDIN, NOVOTEL RESIDENT MANAGER, SAYING (English): "We now use it in our buffet, we use it for breakfast, we use it for lunch, we use it for dinner, we can mix it. The good thing about that product is that it doesn't affect the taste of whatever you're going to mix it with." Already popular in health drinks, spirulina is easily cultivated and packed with protein and anti-oxidants. The Novotel is adding it to sauces, soups and deserts, and, on the whole, customers seem to approve. SOUNDBITE: RATCHANEEWAN KORASMUT, BANGKOK RESIDENT, SAYING (Thai) : "I like to try new and odd things. You look at this (green) color and you might be alarmed, but when you eat it, it tastes good." And the urban-farming experiment is flourishing. What began as a two-barrel project is now a mini-industry with nearly one hundred barrels producing 100 kilos of spirulina per month. The venture is managed by food company, Energaia, which harvests the algae three times a week. Baking soda is added to the mix to regulate pH and provide carbon for speedy growth. And once the spirulina is ready, it's rinsed and spun dry, before being packaged. Energaia's Derek Blitz says it's one of nature's most versatile plants. SOUNDBITE: DEREK BLITZ, ENERGAIA TECHNOLOGY DIRECTOR, SAYING (English) : "The idea of growing algae has been used for waste water treatment, it's also been used for animal feed and spirulina in particular has a very good nutritional content and so it's an ideal food for people to consume." And ideal for the skin, according to the Novotel - so the hotel spa is offering spirulina treatments. Energaia is also partnering with other hotels in Bangkok and hopes to install more than a thousand bioreactors by early 2014, turning urban algae farming into a growth industry for Thailand.