Quantcast

A Plea for Kelp: These Farmers and Chefs Want to Make Seaweed the Next Superfood

Food
Lia Heifetz of Barnacle Foods hauls kelp for salsa. Bethany Sonsini Goodrich

By Sarah Bedolfe

Summer in southeast Alaska is kelp season for the cofounders of Barnacle Foods, Lia Heifetz and Matt Kern. Each week, the pair watches the tides and weather, waiting for the right moment to cruise out to the abundant kelp beds offshore. They lean over the side of the boat and pull up the fronds and stalks, one piece at a time. As soon as they get back to shore, they start processing the day's harvest into a local delicacy: kelp salsa.

Salsa and Alaskan algae might seem like odd bedfellows, but for Barnacle Foods, it's a calculated decision. The kelp's savory notes make the salsa's flavor "a little more explosive," according to Kern. And the pairing is also a practical one. "Salsa is such a familiar food item," Heifetz said. It's "a gateway to getting more people to eat seaweed."


Barnacle Foods is part of a small but growing movement of chefs, scientists and farmers who want to make edible kelp go mainstream. Seaweed is an extra-healthy crop, rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids. And it's not only good for you, it's good for the planet.

"It's a crop that we can grow without the use of freshwater and without the use of land," said Paul O'Connor, a marine scientist and founder of This is Seaweed, which sells edible Irish seaweed. It's "99 percent environmentally friendly."

Something for Everyone

Kelp is a near-perfect food, but there's one problem: Not enough people eat it. Though seaweed is a cooking mainstay in Asian countries, it's struggled to gain a toehold in places like Europe and the U.S. Food innovators like Mark Kulsdom are trying to change this.

Kulsdom is the founder of The Dutch Weed Burger, a company that introduces diners to seaweed through the power of fast food. The weed burger's cheeky name grabs the attention of tourists and festival-goers in the Netherlands, though there are no illicit ingredients to be found.

The burger, bun and sauce each use a different type of locally grown seaweed or algae. With the recent opening of The Joint, Kulsdom's new restaurant in Amsterdam, his team expanded the menu to include seaweed-y variations of sausage, shawarma and fish and chips.

Kulsdom emphasized that even though The Joint's dishes are vegan, his clientele are not necessarily strict herbivores. "We didn't so much want to cater to the vegan community," Kulsdom said, "we wanted to cater to everybody."

New and Old

O'Connor faces a different hurdle than Kulsdom. This is Seaweed sells various types of dried Irish seaweeds as seasonings for other foods. But home chefs face a learning curve with This is Seaweed's products, since dulse or alaria flakes aren't as familiar as black pepper. So, the company posts recipes and serving suggestions alongside its products. O'Connor recommends sprinkling a pinch of seaweed flakes on your egg in the morning, or perhaps on your potatoes or soup.

Though seaweed might seem exotic, O'Connor and other seaweed producers are tapping into centuries-old traditions. Seaweed was once a popular food in O'Connor's native Ireland, although it fell out of favor after being used as a staple during the Irish Potato Famine. In the U.S., Barnacle Foods' Heifetz noted that seaweed has long been an important traditional food for the native people of Southeast Alaska.

Changing Tides

Efforts to revive kelp could be paying off. According to O'Connor, public perceptions of seaweed in Europe and the U.S. seem to be changing. "People are more open to it, and they trust seaweed as something that has health benefits to it," he said. It's become more than just "that slimy thing that I slip on when I'm at the beach."

A selection of seaweed flakes. This is Seaweed

Growing more edible kelp could bring big benefits to the ocean. Seaweed helps maintain water quality by absorbing excess nutrients. Seaweed farms can even help the climate. Kelp takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, produces oxygen and can locally mitigate the effects of ocean acidification.

The future looks bright for seaweed purveyors everywhere. "We're really excited about the potential of seaweed and kelp as a major food source," Kern said. They hope to become steady buyers for seaweed farmers, promoting this sustainable industry in Alaskan waters. Heifetz added: "We hope that we can play a key role in sharing this amazing resource."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A tropical storm above Bangkok on Aug. 04, 2016. Hristo Rusev/ NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Jeff Turrentine

First off: Bangkok Wakes to Rain, the intricately wrought, elegantly crafted debut novel by the Thai-American author Pitchaya Sudbanthad, isn't really about climate change. This tale set in the sprawling subtropical Thai capital is ultimately a kind of family saga — although its interconnected characters aren't necessarily linked by a bloodline. What binds them is their relationship to a small parcel of urban land on which has variously stood a Christian mission, an upper-class family house, and a towering condominium. All of the characters have either called this place home or had some other significant connection to it.

Read More Show Less
orn_france / iStock / Getty Images

By Susan McCabe, BSc, RD

Dioscorea alata is a species of yam commonly referred to as purple yam, ube, violet yam, or water yam.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Left: MirageC / Moment / Getty Images Right: Pongsak Tawansaeng / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Sole water is water saturated with pink Himalayan salt.

Read More Show Less
People march to TCF Bank Stadium to protest against the mascot for the Washington Redskins before the game against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 2, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hannah Foslien / Getty Images

Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law Thursday banning public schools or universities in the state from using Native American mascots, names or imagery. Mills' action will make Maine the first state in the nation with such a ban once it goes into effect later this year, The Bangor Daily News reported.

Read More Show Less
A man protests against the use of disposable plastics outside the Houses of Parliament on March 28 in London. John Keeble / Getty Images

Plastic pollution across the globe is suffocating our planet and driving Earth toward catastrophic climatic conditions if not curbed significantly and immediately, according to a new report by the Center for International Environmental Law (CEIL).

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) testifies during a House Energy and Commerce Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill on April 2 in Washington, DC. Zach Gibson / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

A new climate action plan put forth by Democratic presidential candidate Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday is being praised for highlighting the enormous benefits that would result from a rapid shift in the U.S. to a renewable energy economy that centers on the needs of workers and vulnerable communities.

Read More Show Less

Mitshu / E+ / Getty Images

By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

Veganism is a way of living that tries to minimize animal exploitation and cruelty.

Read More Show Less

6okean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A federal judge ruled this week that the Food and Drug Administration must begin implementing regulations for the many types of e-cigarettes now on the market in the U.S.

Read More Show Less