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What is Chlorella? Introducing Chlorella

What is Chlorella? Introducing Chlorella

Chlorella is an important genus within the Chlorophyta phylum, specifically in the order Chlorococcales and the family Chlorellales. Chlorella is a unicellular microalgae, typically spherical or ellipsoidal, with diameters ranging from 3 to 8 micrometers. These algae generally grow and reproduce through photosynthetic autotrophy, although some strains exhibit both phototrophic and heterotrophic growth capabilities.

The Chlorella we commonly encounter in health supplements is known as Chlorella vulgaris. The term “py” signifies the presence of a protein core. Many people inquire about the protein-core Chlorella, and detailed information about these strains can be found in various genetic resource libraries such as CCAP, ATCC, SAG, NIES, and UTEX.

Extensive research has been conducted on the classification of the Chlorella genus. A notable study published in Fottea (Volume 11, Issue 2, pages 293-312, 2011) provides a comprehensive analysis of the taxonomy and classification of Chlorella species. This research highlights the diversity within the genus and underscores the importance of Chlorella in both scientific research and commercial applications.

Chlorella is renowned for its nutritional benefits, being rich in proteins, vitamins, minerals, and chlorophyll. It is widely used in dietary supplements, health foods, and even as a natural food coloring agent. The ability of some Chlorella strains to grow in both light and dark conditions makes them versatile for various applications, including wastewater treatment and biofuel production.

In conclusion, Chlorella is a remarkable microalga with significant health benefits and diverse applications. Its nutritional profile and versatile growth capabilities make it a valuable resource in both the health and environmental sectors. Whether used as a dietary supplement or in industrial processes, Chlorella continues to be a subject of extensive research and interest.


The History of Chlorella

Chlorella is estimated to have originated in the Precambrian era, approximately 2.5 billion years ago. Due to its minute size, it wasn’t discovered until 1890 by Dutch microbiologist Martinus Beijerinck, who named it Chlorella vulgaris (with “Chlor” meaning green and “ella” meaning small in Latin) and successfully isolated and cultured it.

During World War I and World War II, Germany researched this species, attempting to cultivate it as a food source. Post-World War II, this research moved to the Stanford Research Institute and the Carnegie Institution in the United States. In 1951, the Rockefeller Foundation funded the Japanese government to develop methods for cultivating and harvesting Chlorella under the leadership of Dr. Hiroshi Tamiya. This research aimed at commercial production caught the attention of space programs in the United States and the former Soviet Union, considering Chlorella as a potential food source for space travel. This led Japanese scientists to explore its potential as a health food for humans.

In 1963, Kaminaka applied spray drying technology to Chlorella production, addressing the technical issue of breaking the cell wall. This innovation increased the digestibility and absorption rate of Chlorella to over 80% (compared to 47% for non-wall-broken cells). In China, during the 1960s, there was a large-scale movement to cultivate Chlorella using traditional methods as feed and food due to well-known circumstances of that era.

Japan was the first to achieve large-scale cultivation of Chlorella in the 1970s and developed it as a health food for humans. In the 1980s, Japan further developed a range of health and beauty products, including Chlorella food items, beverages, green liquor, and cosmetics.

Currently, several countries and regions have achieved commercial production of Chlorella, including Japan (with companies such as Sun Chlorella and Yaeyama), mainland China (companies like Xinda Ze, Ci Bai Nian, and Lv An Qi), Taiwan (companies such as Far East Bio-Tec Co., Uni-President Enterprises Corporation, and Vedan), South Korea (Daesang Corporation), Germany (ALGOMED), and Portugal.

Chlorella’s long history, from its ancient origins to modern-day commercial applications, highlights its resilience and versatility as a species. It has transitioned from being a subject of scientific curiosity to a vital component in health supplements and beauty products, showcasing its immense potential and wide-ranging benefits.

Large-Scale Production of Chlorella

The large-scale production of Chlorella primarily follows two methods: phototrophic cultivation and heterotrophic cultivation.

1. Phototrophic Cultivation: In phototrophic cultivation, Chlorella is grown in outdoor open ponds where it utilizes sunlight for growth and reproduction. Traditional facilities employ circular ponds (as seen in Yaeyama, Japan). More advanced methods include the use of raceway ponds, commonly used for Spirulina cultivation, as implemented by companies like Xinda Ze and Ci Bai Nian in China. Additionally, Germany and Portugal have advanced to using glass tube systems for cultivation.

2. Heterotrophic Cultivation: Heterotrophic cultivation involves growing Chlorella in fermentation tanks where glucose serves as the energy source for growth and reproduction. The process begins with the cultivation of seed cultures, which are then scaled up in circular tanks. After cultivation, the culture is concentrated using disc centrifuges, and the concentrated liquid is then subjected to brief heating (for sterilization and chlorophyll enzyme deactivation) before undergoing spray drying. This dried product is then processed into tablets and other forms. Various methods can be used for cell wall breaking, including grinding or high-pressure homogenization of the concentrated slurry, or air-jet milling of the dry powder.

Differences Between Phototrophic and Heterotrophic Chlorella: There are significant differences between phototrophic and heterotrophic Chlorella products. Since fermentation typically occurs in the absence of light, heterotrophic Chlorella generally has lower chlorophyll content compared to its phototrophic counterpart, resulting in a brighter green powder, whereas phototrophic Chlorella appears more dark green. This distinction is often noticeable to the naked eye. Additionally, phototrophic Chlorella usually has a higher protein content, while heterotrophic Chlorella tends to have a higher lipid content.

Despite these differences, there are few comparative studies on the efficacy of the two types. Most documented research on Chlorella’s benefits involves experiments using phototrophic products. In Japan, a significant portion of Chlorella products are produced through heterotrophic fermentation. South Korea’s Daesang Corporation is also a major producer of heterotrophic Chlorella. In China, the heterotrophic fermentation of Chlorella is still in its nascent stages.

Chlorella’s large-scale production methods continue to evolve, with ongoing research and development aimed at optimizing both phototrophic and heterotrophic cultivation techniques. The differences in the final product characteristics highlight the diverse applications and potential benefits of Chlorella in the health and nutrition industries. Whether produced through phototrophic or heterotrophic means, Chlorella remains a vital resource with significant promise for future innovations.


Applications of Chlorella

1. As Food:

Chlorella is renowned for its high protein content, rich chlorophyll, abundant unsaturated fatty acids, trace elements, and vitamins. Initially developed as a food source due to its rapid growth rate and high protein content (up to 70%), Chlorella shares a high nucleic acid content with other single-cell proteins, making it unsuitable as a staple food. However, its unique properties, such as its algae aroma and high chlorophyll content, make it an excellent food additive. It can serve as a natural colorant in various food products, a flavor enhancer in baking (e.g., green grass cake), and an ingredient to improve food formulations.

2. As Dietary Supplements:

Chlorella is a popular ingredient in dietary supplements, boasting numerous health benefits supported by extensive research. Despite some misconceptions about the direct correlation between its protein content and health benefits, Chlorella has proven to be effective in various health aspects. Early Japanese researchers conducted rigorous studies, including human clinical trials, to verify its health benefits. Recent research, although more complex and detailed, continues to validate Chlorella’s efficacy. Key benefits include detoxification, immune system support, and enhancing overall health and wellness.

3. In Cosmetics and Skincare:

Chlorella’s high chlorophyll content and rich nutritional profile make it a valuable ingredient in cosmetics and skincare products. It is used in formulations to rejuvenate skin, promote collagen production, and protect against environmental damage. Chlorella extracts are found in facial masks, creams, and lotions, offering anti-aging and skin-healing properties.

4. In Animal Feed:

Chlorella is also utilized in animal feed due to its high nutritional value. It serves as a supplement to enhance the diet of livestock, poultry, and aquaculture. Its inclusion in animal feed improves growth rates, boosts immune response, and enhances the overall health of animals, leading to better quality meat, eggs, and fish.

5. In Environmental Applications:

Chlorella plays a role in environmental sustainability through its application in wastewater treatment and biofuel production. Its ability to absorb heavy metals and pollutants makes it effective in cleaning contaminated water. Additionally, Chlorella can be cultivated for biofuel, providing a renewable energy source. Its rapid growth and high lipid content are advantageous for biofuel production, contributing to alternative energy solutions.


Chlorella’s diverse applications span from food additives to dietary supplements, cosmetics, animal feed, and environmental solutions. Its unique properties and health benefits make it a valuable resource in various industries. Whether enhancing human health or contributing to environmental sustainability, Chlorella continues to demonstrate its versatility and potential.

Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF)

When comparing Chlorella to other health products, its standout feature is the Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF). However, despite its significance, there is still a lack of comprehensive understanding about CGF.

In the early 1950s, Dr. Fujimaki from the National Institute of Health Sciences in Tokyo used electrophoresis to extract a mixture from hot-water-treated Chlorella. He discovered that this mixture promoted healthy growth in young animals and adolescents, leading to its designation as the Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF). This mixture includes nucleic acids, amino acids, protein peptides, vitamins, minerals, polysaccharides, glycoproteins, and β-glucans. Some believe that CGF is the substance that drives Chlorella’s own cellular growth and reproduction.

From my personal experience, CGF’s efficacy can be described as powerful, even somewhat miraculous, and numerous studies have validated its benefits. However, I won’t delve into the details here.

CGF’s inherent properties pose significant challenges for product development:

  1. Uncertain Active Compounds: The mixture of substances in CGF works collectively, but when isolated, individual components do not exhibit the same efficacy. This makes it difficult to qualitatively and quantitatively measure the product, similar to certain herbal medicines where the active compounds cannot be definitively identified.
  2. Variability in Raw Materials and Extraction Methods: The efficacy of CGF is highly dependent on the raw materials and extraction methods used. Different materials and methods may yield higher extraction rates but not necessarily better efficacy, presenting a challenge for standardizing the product.
  3. High Costs and Low Yields: Conventional methods for extracting water-soluble components from Chlorella result in low yields and high costs, limiting the broader application of CGF.

Due to these challenges, some experts suggest renaming CGF to Chlorella Extract (CE) to better reflect its composite nature. This shift in terminology is gaining traction within the academic community.


Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF) is a complex mixture of bioactive substances with significant potential health benefits. Despite its powerful effects, challenges in identifying active compounds, standardizing extraction methods, and managing costs and yields have limited its broader application. The academic community is moving towards referring to it as Chlorella Extract (CE) to more accurately describe its nature.

CGF’s story underscores both the promise and challenges of harnessing natural compounds for health applications, highlighting the need for continued research and innovation in this field.


Chlorella Industry and Product Development

Japan is the pioneer in the development of the Chlorella industry, followed by Taiwan, both having established comprehensive regulations. In the United States, the FDA has granted Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status to both original Chlorella (GRAS Notice: 000330, now reclassified from Chlorella protothecoides to Auxenochlorella protothecoides, and not belonging to the Chlorella genus) and common Chlorella (GRAS Notice: 000396). In China, protein-core Chlorella received new resource food certification in 2012, with about ten health product certifications currently approved. The industry has been improving in terms of production scale and quality control, gaining a notable presence in the international market.

Product Diversity and Market Presence:

The Japanese market boasts the most diverse range of Chlorella products. According to data from the Japanese health and medicine sales website KENKO (http://www.kenko.com/), there are approximately 500 different products containing Chlorella or Chlorella components. These products include health foods, food ingredients, medicinal aids, cosmetics, daily necessities, pet feed and supplies, and beverages.

In Germany, ALGOMED offers a variety of Chlorella products, such as algae tablets, algae powder, noodles, snacks, and chewing gum. However, the development of Chlorella products in China is relatively limited, with only a few types of products directly available to the market.


The Chlorella industry has seen significant growth and development, particularly in Japan and Taiwan, with the United States and China also making notable advancements. The diversity of Chlorella products is most pronounced in Japan, reflecting a mature market with extensive product offerings. As the industry continues to expand, the potential for Chlorella-based products remains vast, promising continued innovation and market penetration.

Chlorella’s journey from a niche algae to a globally recognized health supplement highlights its potential and versatility. With ongoing research and development, the Chlorella industry is poised for further growth, offering a wide array of products that cater to health, wellness, and environmental sustainability.

spirulina factory

Chlorella has a rich history dating back billions of years and has evolved into a vital component in the health and nutrition industries. From its early discovery and research in Japan and Germany to its current widespread use, Chlorella’s journey underscores its significance as a powerful and versatile microalga.

Applications of Chlorella are diverse, ranging from food additives to dietary supplements, cosmetics, animal feed, and environmental applications. Its high protein content, rich chlorophyll, and abundant unsaturated fatty acids make it an exceptional nutritional supplement. The Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF) further distinguishes it from other health products, despite challenges in standardizing its active compounds.

Industry Development has seen significant strides, with Japan leading the way, followed by Taiwan, and substantial advancements in the United States and China. Regulatory approvals, such as the FDA’s GRAS status and China’s new resource food certification, have paved the way for Chlorella’s commercial success. The product diversity in Japan highlights a mature market, while other regions continue to expand their offerings.

Riching Nutrition, a prominent Chinese supplier, plays a crucial role in this expanding industry. As an organic, Kosher, and Halal certified company, Riching Nutrition is dedicated to providing high-quality Chlorella products. Their offerings include Chlorella powders and extracts, which are rigorously tested to ensure superior quality and safety.

Riching Nutrition stands out with its ability to meet the needs of various industries, including health food companies, nutritional supplement manufacturers, food and beverage companies, and more. Their commitment to quality control and steady supply, coupled with competitive pricing, makes them a reliable partner for businesses worldwide.

In conclusion, Chlorella’s potential is vast, with ongoing research and innovation driving its growth in the health and nutrition sectors. Companies like Riching Nutrition are at the forefront of this expansion, providing high-quality Chlorella products that cater to the diverse needs of consumers and industries globally.

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