When you think of algae -- or, yes, pond scum -- does a healthy and delicious dessert come to mind? Well, thanks to Florida-based Hero Pops, it should.
The creation of Vero Beach resident Michael Haggerty, a new line of vegan-vegetarian popsicles known as Pond Yum! aren't just another bland, boring health-nut treat you need to be forced into trying. Aside from delivering a dose of superfood, they're also surprisingly delicious -- and a great way to get you (and your kids!?!) a daily serving of phytonutrients.
How? The main ingredient that makes these naturally bright green pops extra-special: fresh, locally-grown spirulina.
Pond Yum is a unique product, the world's first popsicle to use flash-frozen, live and locally-grown blue-green algae, also known as the superfood spirulina.
The algae is made specifically for Pond Yum, sourced from Vero Beach-based microbiologist Erik Stenn, owner of AlgaGen, a marine biotech company that produces microalgae for both human and animal health and nutrition. That includes the 30 to 50 pounds of the custom-culture cyanobacterium produced each week for Haggerty's pops, Stenn told Clean Plate Charlie during a recent interview.
Haggerty found AlgaGen several years ago while searching high and low for fresh spirulina to create a healthy, nutrient-packed "green" treat for his son. Freeze-dried and powdered products tasted awful, Haggerty said, and didn't provide all the nutrients of fresh spirulina.
"Buying from us is the difference between picking a tomato fresh from the vine in your own organic garden, versus buying one from Walmart," said Stenn. "And because [Pond Yum] flash freezes the algae the day it's harvested, each pop delivers the maximum nutrient content by preserving the raw, living food."
The idea to create a frozen algae pop was born in 2010, when Haggerty turned his young son -- who suffered from a laundry list of food allergies, asthma and hyper attention deficit disorder -- to a vegan diet to alleviate symptoms.
"His food allergy list was [pretty] long, but I still needed to get good, green food into him," said Haggerty.
Because his son loved dessert (really, who doesn't?) Haggerty began experimenting with popsicle recipes that contained healthy ingredients; one of his first recipes was a combination of cinnamon, spinach, orange juice and pineapple sweetened with Stevia. But it wasn't enough.
"The 'eat your broccoli, son' wasn't panning out, so I wanted to fix that," said Haggerty. "I knew that algae, with tons of vitamins and minerals and phytonutrients like chlorophyll, were better than taking pill vitamins. And I was really interested in spirulina because of its anti-cancer properties, as well as its ability to remove toxins."
Born in Boca Raton to a family that worked in real estate, Haggerty -- a former residential painter -- never saw a future in algae. But when concerns that the chemicals he worked with daily were causing further health issues for both he and his son, Haggerty made a drastic change, swapping painting for popsicle-making. It was a valid concern: over the years, five members of his family had been diagnosed with cancer, three of whom were children.
A powerful, nutrient-dense superfood, fresh blue-green algae -- unlike powdered or dried products -- offers a 97% bioavailable dose of living food. Often used as a dietary supplement -- although it can be eaten fresh when available as it is with Pond Yum! -- most people know it in its tablet, flake and powder form. And the health benefits are numerous: spirulina has anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, alkalizing and detoxifying properties. It's also a complete protein, often considered superior to all other plant proteins, and helps to control appetite, aid in cell regeneration, as well as boost energy and immune function.
All this you'll find in Pond Yum, each 2.7-ounce pop containing 25 percent spirulina, 2 grams of protein, less than 80 grams of sodium, and about 12 grams of sugar (a small amount coming from organic coconut milk, dairy-free chocolate and evaporated organic cane juice). Dairy- and gluten-free, they're currently available in a variety of flavors including maple pecan, mocha maca, chocolate-dipped chocolate, mint chocolate and ginger, and sell for about $3 a pop. With a mild, creamy flavor they are a pleasantly sweet treat for adults and children alike.
Today, Haggerty's facility has the ability to churn out 1,000 pops per day. With the recent launch of his website, he hope to expand sales -- both regionally and online -- to increase production to 7,000 pops per day, which would help to extend sales south of Indian River County. Currently, out of the several retail shops that carry Pond Yum, only two are in South Florida: The Vegan Cafe in West Palm Beach and PurJuice Raw Vegan Juice Bar and Indoor Cycling Studio in Delray Beach.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.