Some Melbourne Cafe Is Serving A “Blue Algae Latte”, Proving That Melbourne Can Fuck Right Off

This is a terrible, terrible idea.

Last night, I took a gamble and ate a plateful of roast veggies I first cooked nine days ago. I’m not proud if it. I knew it was a stupid thing to do, and that I was risking food poisoning just because I was too lazy to cook something or wait for a Menulog delivery. Every mouthful of dodgy, potentially sickening vegetables came with an equal portion of crippling, soul-hollowing shame. I will carry that burden with me always.

Or I could move to Melbourne, and open an uber-trendy cafe that charges people a day’s wage to eat my foul, borderline-unsafe cookwares. Numerous outlets are excitedly reporting that the infuriatingly named Matcha Mylkbar, a cafe near St Kilda Beach with menu sections titled things like ‘Longevity Bowls’ and, I shit you not, ‘#socialinfluencers’, has just proudly released this thing:

That is a live blue algae latte, the cafe’s latest effort in its quest to make coffees in all the colours of the rainbow and fill your Instagram feed to the point of exploding.

Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but a blue algae latte is a terrible idea. Here’s why.

Blue algae, for those playing at home, is a ‘health’ food sold in pill and powdered form that’s popular among health nuts, who claim its “high concentrations of proteins, vitamins and nutrients” give it “superfood status”. People take it for all kinds of things, diabetes, weight loss, stress, fatigue, depression and menopause among them.

The powdered algae Matcha Mylkbar uses comes from E3Live, a US-based company that harvests blue-green algae grown on Oregon’s Upper Klamath Lake. E3Live claim that its Blue Majik algae powder is “clinically shown to relieve physical discomfort, which means consumers feel better, can do more activity, and enjoy an overall better quality of life”, which is why it charges $160 for a 50-gram bottle of the stuff.

All of which, to put it kindly, is some bullshit. The harvesting of blue-green algae on Upper Klamath Lake has been a source of concern for US and Canadian health bodies for decades. In 1986, after years of legal action prompted by the Food and Drug Administration, a US District Court judge found that the algae’s “value as a nutrient is negligible”, and that the various therapeutic claims made by a company marketing the algae were baseless. Even after decades of use, the US National Library of Medicine has found insufficient evidence for any of the claims blue algae peddlers make about their products.

More seriously, in 1999 the Canadian Health Protection Branch began running tests on algae food supplements “after several blue-green algal products were found to contain unacceptable levels of microcystins” — highly dangerous toxins released by blue-green algal blooms in the wild that contaminate drinking water and are harmful to humans and animals.

A year later, the Oregon Department of Health found that 63 of 87 blue-green algae products tested “contained microcystin levels above [the] regulatory limit”, most likely as they had been “collected inadvertently during the harvesting process” of other, harmless strains of algae and wound up in the final product. The ODH found that “the potential for microcystin exposure may be substantially greater for consumers of blue-green algae products”.

The largely unregulated nature of the US food supplements industry, in which “the manufacturers of dietary supplements can market their products without having to demonstrate the product’s safety to the FDA”, means that there’s a risk that the so-called “safe” powdered blue algae sold by places like E3Live is contaminated.

“Many consumers of dietary supplements and other alternative health care products assume that these products could not be sold without the absolute assurance of safety. Unfortunately, because of the regulatory limits on the FDA that are imposed by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, this is not the case,” the ODH warns. “The dietary supplement industry is largely self-regulated, and assuming that these products are entirely safe may not, in fact, be a safe assumption.”

Basically, because the industry is unregulated and unmonitored, there’s no way of knowing whether or not you’re getting harmless (if useless and overpriced) powdered algae, or something that could make you really sick. Increasing that risk is the fact that E3Live, as they boast on their own website, doesn’t cultivate its product in a controlled environment, preferring to harvest its algae “from only the deepest, most pristine waters of Upper Klamath Lake”. So while you’re quaffing that blue algae latte, enjoy the knowledge that it began life as completely unmonitored pond scum, and the powder that pond scum turned into has absolutely no government assurances regarding its safety.

Bloody Melbourne.