On a tabletop at the food science show running through March 22 at Tokyo’s Miraikan museum, there is a shallow aquarium filled with glowing green water. The glow comes from a submerged light, and the green comes from the billions of euglena that swarm around it.
Euglena are one-celled microbes that create energy through photosynthesis. This makes them sound like plants. But each euglena also has a whip-like tail called a flagellum that it uses to swim toward a light source. This makes them sound like animals. According to the dictionary, they are “often classified as algae.”
The Miraikan classifies them as food.
“Theoretically, 190,000 people per day could be fed from a euglena pool measuring 800 meters by 800 meters by one meter,” says a sign near the museum’s much smaller tank, which might provide an appetizer for one person.
According to the museum, euglena are 17 times more efficient at photosynthesis than corn is. This, plus their consumption of carbon dioxide and production of oxygen, has attracted the interest of scientists looking for viable food sources for future space colonization, as well as those looking for solutions to hunger and global warming here on Earth.
In Japanese, euglena are called “midori mushi” (literally “green bug”), and the museum is selling Midori Mushi Cookies in petite boxes of five. Each cookie contains about 200 million euglena, for a total of one billion green bugs in each box. Naturally, I had to try them. They tasted like sesame shortbread cookies. I found them disappointingly non-weird, but maybe that’s a good thing for humanity’s future.
Read about the rest of what I learned at the museum in my Daily Yomiuri article, as picked up by Singapore’s Soshiok foodie site.