Like the tide creeping in, so slowly that you hardly notice it, the idea of seaweed as a food seems to be taking hold among some corners of the food universe, particularly with those concerned about the environment. (After all, you can grow it in salt water instead of using valuable fresh water.) Seaweed is also cheap to grow, and it’s highly nutritious.
In any case, look what’s been happening lately, in the world of seaweed and food:
1. The seaweed industry is growing like, well, seaweed
The 2016 Global Commercial Seaweeds Industry Report came out summer, and it states that the industry is growing at 8.9 percent annually. By 2024, the commercial seaweed market will hit $22 billion. Right now, the big players in the seaweed market are China, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and Japan.
In the United States, Maine is becoming well known for its seaweed harvesting, and in 2014 and 2015, it even held the Maine Seaweed Festival. It didn’t hold one this year, but the organizers, on their website, promise that there will be another one. Other states, like Alaska, are dipping their toes in the water and experimenting with seaweed farming.
2. Seaweed farming is already having growing pains
In Maine, there’s been some disagreements between seaweed farmers and land owners. In Maine, the land is yours up to the low tide line, but the public gets the final say when there’s fishing, trapping of wildlife or navigation involved. But the law hasn’t really come down who gets the final say when it comes between a seaweed harvesters and owners of waterfront property. Some waterfront owners clearly would rather not have seaweed harvesters near their homes.
Apparently, the machines they use a extremely loud. The Portland Press Herald mentions a waterfront property owner named Eddie Page whose peace and tranquility was interrupted when he heard fisherman harvesting seaweed. The sound was so loud, Page measured it with an app on his smartphone. “At times we had two machines on our property, and I got 75 decibels each,” Page told the paper.
3. Scientists are discovering more uses for seaweed
As you may know, cows have a gas problem that actually hurts the environment. They release methane into the air, which is even more devastating to the planet than carbon dioxide, 25 times worse (or worse than that; you can find all sorts of numbers out there). But Australian scientists have discovered that adding dried seaweed to sheep and cattle feed can eliminate global methane emissions by 50 to 70 percent.
And here’s a fun fact I turned up during this research. It isn’t really (there’s no way to be delicate about this) cow farts that are hurting the environment. Most of the methane is released by cows burping.
4. We may see new seaweed food products on the market before too long
For instance, earlier this year, an Oregon State University scientist unveiled seaweed that he has been cultivating and working on it for 20 years. It’s a seaweed that tastes like bacon. It’s also very nutritious, with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, iodine, potassium and a lot of protein.
5. Seaweed snacks are increasing in popularity
For instance, CVS expanded its healthy foods initiative and vegan offerings this summer and now sells GimMe Health Food Seaweed Snacks. And Kelpyco sells kelp chips (kelp is a type of seaweed), which is not to be confused with kale chips. Kelp chips, wrote The Bangor Daily News several years ago, is like the kale chip but with “a more savory, salty crunch.”
6. Seaweed is even turning up in vitamins
Brown Seaweed Plus, for instance; apparently it helps with supporting healthy blood sugar, immune function and weight loss. Dr. Jeremy Wolf, N.D., who works for LuckyVitamin.com, says that seaweed “is rich in many health promoting ingredients such as, dietary fiber, Omega-3 Fatty acids, essential amino acids, and Vitamins A, B, C, and E.” He adds that seaweed has also been turning up in cosmetics and personal care products.