Here in Wales and almost 6,000 miles away from Japan, seaweed is no stranger to the traditional diet. Whether you’re partial to a sushi roll or laverbread on your trip along the Welsh coast, seaweed has been secretly waiting in the wings for centuries. However, stroll into an upmarket delicatessen and you are very likely to come across seaweed products sitting on the shelves. But why the sudden popularity in the slimy green plant that populates our beaches? We are exploring all the hidden treasures seaweed has to offer us…
What have we been using seaweed for previously?
Seaweed is used mostly in the food and pharmaceutical industries, as a source of polysaccharide. However, due to its high levels of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre and low-fat content, it has now been dubbed a ‘superfood’.
Nori is a widely consumed type of seaweed, usually found wrapped around sushi. Although green in colour, nori is classed as a red seaweed due to its phycoerythrin and phycocyanin content. Nori isn’t just there for decoration, it’s high in protein and contains 1.5 times more Vitamin C than oranges!
The good stuff doesn’t stop there, as seaweed is also rich in iodine. Iodine can be used to control the function of the thyroid.
Seaweed blows land plants out of the water when it comes to mineral content too, as it is bursting with sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. It is also vitamin rich, packing in Vitamins A, B, C and E.
Where does our seaweed supply come from?
The commercial growing of seaweed is expanding. It is not only grown in Japan and India anymore, but in France, Spain and Ireland too. From muesli to snacks, seaweed is making an appearance in items you’d usually pick up on your weekly shop.
Nurture over Nature
So why is seaweed full of goodness? Seawater is key. Seaweed can concentrate vitamins and minerals from its surrounding seawater; therefore, it is very important to know the geographic source to ensure the seaweed has not come from a highly polluted area. Sustainability is also important and by knowing where the seaweed has come from, gives the consumer peace of mind that what they are eating is sustainably sourced.
What more can seaweed offer?
The protein, carbohydrate and fibre content vary from one type of seaweed to another, similarly to land plants.
Seaweed contains a wide range of carbohydrates, from starch and cellulose to mannan and galactans. The human gut cannot digest most of these carbohydrates and therefore they act as a source of dietary fibre. Fibre represents between 35-50% of the total dry weight of seaweed, which is considerably higher than the fruit and vegetables that are sitting in our fridge right now.
By adding seaweed to your diet, it has been proven to promote beneficial gut flora, help reduce the glycaemic index of other foods and may help protect against colon cancer.
Again, the protein content of seaweed varies between species and its environmental conditions, however, it can make up between 5-47% of its dry weight. The highest level of protein has been found in red seaweed including all the essential amino acids.
Did you know that the same omega 3 fatty acids that are found in oily fish can be found in seaweed too? Seaweed is low in fat representing only 2% of its dry weight.
The food industry is being swayed by seaweed…
Many food companies are considering using seaweed in their products. For example, dried or ground seaweed can be used as a flavour enhancer or salt replacement. Supporting this, Sheffield Hallam University conducted research into the use of seaweed in food products and found that seaweed can be used as a salt replacement in bread, consequently aiding weight management.
Europe seem to be taking the seaweed market by storm as countries such as the Netherlands and France are using seaweed as a low carbohydrate alternative for pasta and in flavoured waters.
If this blog hasn’t persuaded you to add seaweed onto your shopping list we don’t know what will. Rich in all things good, seaweed could be a great source of fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals if eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Could using seaweed in your products open new markets for you? Want to know how you could get involved? Get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org