Reasons Why the Planet Needs You to Eat More Seaweed
By Emily Baksa
If you’ve stood on the beach at low tide you’ve seen it at its least appealing moment: slimy, smelly seaweed washed to shore and covered in sand.
Can you imagine eating it?
I have to admit that the idea of eating seaweed didn’t initially appeal much to me.
But then I learned why it was so important.
Appreciation is growing for this marine plant as more cultures learn more about its potential. This comes as we reach the limits of industrial, land-based agriculture.
We’re losing land options to grow our food on.
Years of irresponsible farming took nutrients from earth’s soil and polluted land with toxic chemicals. Agriculture is also vulnerable to increased incidences of forest fires, flooding, and destructive storms.
The impact of climate change on agriculture is already seen in places like California.
We need new options to generate food for people around the world.
So we’re turning to the oceans.
And there are more opportunities in the ocean than fishing. A good thing, as climate change is harming fish populations too.
Our best solution for a sustainable food source isn’t swimming in the ocean ─ it’s growing.
Not only is seaweed a healthy and practical food choice, but it can also help our planet address climate change.
The benefits of seaweed are bigger than you’d imagine.
Adding Seaweed to Your Diet
Over 145 varieties of nutrient-rich seaweed have been eaten by coastal people around the world for centuries.
Seaweed is common in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisines. But seaweed is not eaten as often in western countries.
The best exposure most western diets have had to seaweed is sushi. But there’s so much more to discover.
As western countries become more familiar with seaweed, it’s taste and texture might grow on people.
It’s already becoming more popular in western countries like the United States.
An interconnected world helps us learn more about each other’s food. It makes our lives more diverse and delicious.
As Americans eat more Asian cuisines, we are learning more about seaweed.
Still, convincing western diners to enjoy seaweed is not an easy task. Increasing awareness of the benefits of seaweed is an important place to start.
Health Benefits of Seaweed
If you’re not used to eating seaweed you may have lots of questions. Is seaweed good for you? Does it count as a vegetable? How many calories does it have?
Seaweed may not seem like much at first glance. But for a simple marine plant, it’s actually packed with plenty of health benefits.
Seaweed is a low-calorie way to get important nutrients like magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin K, folate and some vitamin B12. Many types of seaweed are also high in protein, rich in fiber, and a good source of iodine.
Omega-three fatty acids are also found in seaweed. With this nutritional benefit, seaweed could replace demand for fish and stop the strain on global fisheries.
Nutrient-dense food helps your body stay healthy and strong. But it’s also valuable for feeding a global population.
Seaweed packs life-sustaining nutrients into a small amount of food, making it an effective way to feed people around the world.
As climate change impacts the global food supply, we also need to consider how we’ll feed large populations. Seaweed is a great solution for this challenge.
Seaweed on the Menu
Chefs love seaweed because of the rich umami flavor it brings to dishes.
The best way to experience umami is often by consuming meat. It’s much more difficult to achieve this flavor in foods sourced from soil.
Using seaweed in a recipe adds a salty, meaty flavor to any dish. Our palettes love this sensation.
Have you ever heard of these popular edible seaweeds?
There’s wakame, whose sweet, silky texture works well in cold salads.
Kombu is an important ingredient for making the Japanese stock, dashi, which is the base of many popular soups like miso.
Nori is best known for wrapping sushi. It’s also gaining popularity as the “new kale” when eaten as a dried, crunchy snack.
Then there are some less familiar seaweeds.
Ogonori is often pickled or topped on a Hawaiian poke bowl.
And fresh umibudo is known as “grapes of the sea” and bursts in your mouth like caviar.
Amazing, right? There’s so much more to seaweed than what you see on the beach.
Seaweed has diverse flavors and allows for many creative culinary applications.
If you haven’t seen it on a menu already, you may sometime soon. Seaweed consumption in the United States is growing 7% annually and chef’s are excited about it.
Fighting Climate Change with Seaweed
Seaweed is not only a valuable food because of its nutritional value and flavor.
The planet also benefits from seaweed growth in our oceans.
Growing seaweed has a very low environmental impact. Care is minimal, simply requiring a clean environment to grow in.
Once it’s planted, no feed or care is required. This is easy compared to the labor that goes into most of our other foods!
While the plant naturally grows it is also caring for the environment around it.
Fish and crustaceans call seaweed home and live safely there from predators. Seaweed farms also protect the ocean floor from damaging fishing nets.
But most impressive? Growing more seaweed can help fight climate change.
Is this marine plant a super-power or what?
Cooling the Planet
Carbon dioxide emissions from human activities collect in the atmosphere and warm our planet.
The ocean is trying to help restore balance. It absorbs carbon dioxide into its waters to reduce the amount of CO2 in the air.
This is a good effort by the ocean. But today there is simply too much carbon dioxide out there.
Our oceans are now full of CO2. And too much carbon dioxide in the ocean hurts marine life.
But there is one marine plant that can help.
Seaweed can absorb an amazing amount of carbon dioxide from the water, storing up to five times more carbon than most land-based plants.
We need to reduce the carbon dioxide in our oceans and growing more seaweed can help.
Doing so can also reduce the carbon dioxide present in our atmosphere.
And the less carbon dioxide there is, the cooler our planet can be.
Improving Water Quality
The amount of carbon dioxide in the ocean also makes the water more acidic. Poor water quality impacts the health of fish, coral, oysters, and other marine life.
Acidic oceans are toxic environments for living things.
Just ask the Great Barrier Reef how it feels about rising ocean temperatures.
Seaweed’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide helps underwater ecosystems like coral reefs stay alive.
Coral reefs are not just beautiful to dive through. They’re also the lifeblood of the ocean.
And seaweed is just one piece of the puzzle. Other kinds of seagrass can also help balance the pH of our oceans.
The more we grow marine plants and seaweeds like kelp, the less acidic our oceans could be.
And the healthier our oceans, the healthier our planet.
Find Your Seaweed Craving
Seaweed is our best option for responsibly feeding the world’s population.
And to do so while fighting climate change? A big bonus.
There are many benefits to eating seaweed.
A small supply of seaweed is packed with nutrients. It’s hard to believe how healthy this humble marine plant is, but it’s true!
Our bodies love the nutritional benefits of seaweed. We could feed hungry communities around the world with this food.
Plus, seaweed is pretty tasty! There are so many varieties of seaweed and each one has unique flavors to enjoy.
As chefs in western cultures realize how exciting seaweed is, you’ll be seeing it all over the menu.
Growing seaweed is easy and sustainable. Seaweed also captures carbon dioxide and reduces water acidity as it grows.
The future of our food system lies in the ocean.
But consumer demand is an important factor to seaweed’s success. We need a stronger appreciation for the value seaweed brings.
The more western diets encounter seaweed, the more desirable it will become.
Globalization is already introducing western cultures to seaweed in Asian cuisines. But chefs also play an important role in adding seaweed to our diet.
When chefs put more seaweed on the menu they can engage audiences in new, sustainable food sources.
One simple way you can become a seaweed advocate is with your wallet.
Find a passionate chef or delicious restaurant that’s using seaweed on the menu and order takeout!
There are more edible seaweed options out there than you may realize. You just have to get curious and embrace it.
Seaweed’s popularity is on the rise. Let’s keep the momentum going for the sake of the planet.
Author Bio: Emily is a food & beverage copywriter devoted to sustainable food systems. She believes chefs play an important role in addressing the world’s climate change crisis and is always up for taste testing recipes.