Seaweed-themed lunch provided by Expresso Cafe Norwich for the SEA project Showcase event. Picture by Hethel Innovation.
As mentioned in a previous blog, seaweed is something that you might eat every day without knowing it. In fact, seaweed polysaccharide extracts called alginate, agar, and carrageenan have gelling and stabilising properties and can be found in everyday products such as toothpaste, jelly, puddings and ice cream. However, consuming more seaweed in less processed forms could be good for your health and the environment. Keep reading this blog to find out why.
Current Seaweed Consumption
When you think about eating seaweed, your mind might go to Asian cuisine, where incorporating seaweed into food is more common. Some of their seaweed food traditions, such as sushi and kimchi, are now popular treats in many parts of the world. However, we have also eaten seaweed for a long time here in the UK, such as Welsh laverbread, which is usually made with the wild-harvested red alga Porphyra umbilicalis, so it has nothing to do with regular bread! Despite this seaweed-eating tradition, a survey done in 2021 found that the fear of anything new or unfamiliar (neophobia) was one of the main barriers to people consuming more seaweed in the UK. To combat this and create seaweed products that are attractive to consumers, a 2015 market survey identified over 220 unique seaweed products available for purchase on the British retail market, ranging from seaweed-based snacks to condiments, salads, and drinks (Bouga and Combet, 2015). Although this seems like a relatively high number, there are probably even more products available in UK shops now as interest in seaweed has increased in the last decade.
Picture from pixabay.com.
Why Eat More Seaweed?
As our population increases, so do our food demands and emissions. Because of this, seaweeds are seen as an important future sustainable resource for the growing world population. Out of the about 12,000 different species of seaweed, only 145 are so far being harvested for human consumption (Fleurence and Levine, 2016). But what are the health gains of eating more seaweed? It contains almost half of the letters in the alphabet in vitamins (vitamins A, B, C, E, K) and minerals including iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium and calcium. There is concern amongst nutritionists about the growing problem of ‘hidden hunger’. This occurs when children and adults consume calorific diets that lack essential vitamins and minerals (Lowe 2021). A small amount of seaweed in the diet might help to tackle such deficiencies.
The negative environmental impact of animal agriculture also necessitates the search for alternatives to animal protein-based products (de Souza Celente et al., 2023). Hence, another appealing reason for creating food products containing seaweed is that it can offer a plant-based protein-rich source. Offshore seaweed farming is considered the least environmentally damaging form of aquaculture. It does not compete with food crops for land and water, and fertilisers and pesticides are not used, so adopting seaweed proteins could play a role in enabling a sustainable dietary shift (de Souza Celente et al., 2023). Especially as some seaweed species contain up to 47% protein on a dry weight basis, which is more than many traditional protein sources (O’Brien et al., 2022). However, there is still research to do on how to cost-effectively extract seaweed protein, as well as around food safety and bio-availability.
Picture from pixabay.com.
An Example From Norfolk
In Norfolk, you can find seaweed products in various local shops and department stores, like in Jarrolds, where their seaweed range includes products such as seaweed cocktail oatcakes. A local shop, the Green Parrot in Swaffham, also carries products such as sea spaghetti, dulse and wakame seaweed.
Seaweeds Future in the Food Market
The increased world population and urge to find more environmentally friendly solutions have driven and motivated us to explore alternative food options. As a country, we have already consumed seaweed for a long time, but we still have much to learn from how many Asian countries incorporate seaweed into their daily foods. As we continue to explore sustainable and nutritious food alternatives, embracing seaweed in our diets not only expands our palate but also contributes to a more environmentally friendly and health-conscious lifestyle. From sushi rolls to snacks, seaweed has slowly found its way onto our grocery store shelves and into kitchens in the UK, and we think it is here to stay!
Keen to Explore More?
If you are inspired to start experimenting with seaweed in your food after reading this blog, then we would recommend checking out The Cornish Seaweed Company’s website, where they offer a range of seaweed recipes and products such as whole leaf, flaked, and seaweed seasoning as well as sea spaghetti. You can also buy their ‘The Seaweed Cookbook’, which offers over 70 delicious seaweed recipes! My favourite will have to be their beetroot, mushroom and dulse burger.
SEA project partner Elisa Capuzzo from Cefas also recently featured in the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Food Programme‘ in the episode called ‘A Seaweed Revolution in the UK?’. You can listen to the episode here.
Would you like to read more blogs on seaweed? Head to our webpage for further reading, useful links and SEA project updates!
This blog was written with great help from Dr Gill Malin, SEA project contributor and Emeritus Associate Professor at the University of East Anglia.
Thank you to Norfolk Investment Framework, Norfolk County Council, who made the SEA project possible.
- Bouga, M. and Combet, E. (2015). Emergence of Seaweed and Seaweed-Containing Foods in the UK: Focus on Labeling, Iodine Content, Toxicity and Nutrition. Foods, 4(4), pp.240–253. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/foods4020240.
- Fleurence, J , and IA Levine. Seaweed in Health and Disease Prevention. Elsevier, 2016.
- Lowe, M.N. The global challenge of hidden hunger: perspectives from the field. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (2021), 80, 283–289. doi:10.1017/S0029665121000902.
- de Souza Celente, Gleison, et al. “Seaweed as an Alternative Protein Source: Prospective Protein Extraction Technologies.” Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies, May 2023, p. 103374, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ifset.2023.103374. Accessed 12 May 2023.
- O’ Brien, Ronan O’, et al. “Macroalgal Proteins: A Review.” Foods, vol. 11, no. 4, 16 Feb. 2022, p. 571, https://doi.org/10.3390/foods11040571. Accessed 2 Oct. 2022.