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

Individual standing in Hurricane Harvey flooding and damage. Jill Carlson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Allegra Kirkland, Jeremy Deaton, Molly Taft, Mina Lee and Josh Landis

Climate change is already here. It's not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting U.S. senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.

Read More Show Less
A pregnant woman works out in front of the skyline of London. SHansche / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Air pollution particles that a pregnant woman inhales have the potential to travel through the lungs and breach the fetal side of the placenta, indicating that unborn babies are exposed to black carbon from motor vehicles and fuel burning, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Teen activist Greta Thunberg delivered a talking-to to members of Congress Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Climate Change Task Force after politicians praised her and other youth activists for their efforts and asked their advice on how to fight climate change.

Read More Show Less
Ten feet of water flooded 20 percent of this Minot, North Dakota neighborhood in June 2011. DVIDSHUB / CC BY 2.0

By Jared Brey

When Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida panhandle last October, it killed at least 43 people, caused an estimated $25 billion in damage and destroyed thousands of homes.

Read More Show Less
A protestor holds up her hand covered with fake oil during a demonstration on the U.C. Berkeley campus in May 2010. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The University of California system will dump all of its investments from fossil fuels, as the Associated Press reported. The university system controls over $84 billion between its pension fund and its endowment. However, the announcement about its investments is not aimed to please activists.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Forest fire continues to blaze in Indonesesia on Sept. 18. WAHYUDI / AFP / Getty Images

Nearly 200 people have been arrested in Indonesia over their possible connections to the massive wildfires raging in the nation's forest, officials said this week.

Read More Show Less

By Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

World leaders have a formidable task: setting a course to save our future. The extreme weather made more frequent and severe by climate change is here. This spring, devastating cyclones impacted 3 million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Record heatwaves are hitting Europe and other regions — this July was the hottest month in modern record globally. Much of India is again suffering severe drought.

Read More Show Less
Covering Climate Now / YouTube screenshot

By Mark Hertsgaard

The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change "emergency."

Read More Show Less