Seaweed could be extremely consumed in Asia as a wholesome snack or as an ingredient added to a dish, however it’s not so prevalent within the western world.
Nevertheless, urge for food is beginning to develop exterior of Asia as well being and wellness issues come to the fore, spurred partly by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has given added impetus to the curiosity amongst meals producers and shoppers in merchandise providing advantages for the human physique.
Seaweed is among the many a number of teams of multi-cellular algae touted by some as a ‘superfood’. Proponents say the meals provides well being advantages from a bunch of nutritional vitamins reminiscent of Ok and B12, whereas it’s additionally a supply of folic acid and iodine, which helps with thyroid perform.
Seaweed, which numbers within the area of 10,000 or so species, is an antioxidant and accommodates minerals reminiscent of zinc, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium – the content material of which differs relying on the variability.
The the reason why the demand for seafood merchandise hasn’t taken off within the Western world because it has in Asia, the place youngsters are uncovered to it from an early age as a snack or in meals, are laborious to pinpoint. However it could appear to stem from a lack of understanding or schooling concerning its well being credentials.
Maybe shoppers are delay from these childhood experiences foraging on a seaside and encountering the slimy texture of seaweed, or the umami style it exudes that’s unfamiliar to Western palates. Or, it could be linked to issues about what seaweed may take in from the pure surroundings.
One draw back is the potential presence of heavy metals reminiscent of cadmium, aluminium, lead, and arsenic. Nonetheless, seaweed accommodates the molecule fucoidan, which is alleged to contribute to life expectancy, immunity, and cardiovascular perform.
It is usually mentioned to assist in decreasing blood strain, in addition to being a supply of protein and fibre, relying on the color kind.
And seaweed ticks sustainability containers as effectively, being naturally-occurring algae requiring nearly zero human enter to domesticate apart from harvesting and processing into an ingredient or foodstuff, with out the necessity for fertilisers, land, or soil.
A turning level for western markets
Rhianna Rees, who primarily based her college thesis round seaweed earlier than becoming a member of seasonings maker Mara Seaweed in Edinburgh, says seaweed has declined from round 200 years in the past, when cultivation was prevalent within the Outer Hebrides and the Orkney Islands, however the panorama is beginning to change.
Ultimately, Rees and Mara see seaweed turning into a staple meals cabinet seasoning. She factors out that it’s more and more being utilized in plant-based meats as an algae protein and as a polymer to make different plastics.
Rees, who oversees the science and gross sales points for seaweed at Mara, says the most well-liked varieties are dulce – a purple seaweed with essentially the most vitamins in comparison with the inexperienced and brown sorts – kombu, lengthy kelp used extensively in Asian cooking, and alaria, or wing or sugar kelp.
“Seaweed is entering into this type of space the place it was this meals eaten in instances of desperation as a result of it was free and it was available, to the place now this meals is lauded as a superfood,” she explains. “And within the east, with Japan and China, it was at all times a a lot sought-after meals supply.
“Now it’s individuals acknowledging that they want iodine, that it has all these superfood qualities, that it helps you beat weight problems, that persons are truly beginning to concentrate over right here.”
Rees touches on an necessary consideration – utilizing seaweed as an alternative choice to salt in plant-based meat merchandise, a contentious space as a result of some merchandise in the marketplace have been criticised as being overly excessive in salt or sodium. However producers argue salt is there to enhance style, which is the place seaweed might are available in with the additional benefit of umami flavours.
A key ingredient for the plant-based sector
Marc Coloma, the founder and CEO of Barcelona-based meat-free enterprise Heura Meals, says his firm has been seaweed as a possible alternative for salt.
Chatting with Simply Meals earlier this 12 months, Coloma mentioned that lowering sodium ranges had been a long-term problem for the meals trade usually, and much more of a problem within the options market due to concerns round style.
At the moment, Coloma tells Simply Meals: “Boosting the umami style from the merchandise whereas lowering salt content material is 100% one of many challenges that we face now. Seaweed is among the totally different routes that Heura’s R&D division is exploring, amongst others reminiscent of fermentation and different components.”
Nevertheless, he notes that it might take time earlier than seaweed is extensively used as an ingredient, because the plant-based class continues to develop and broaden.
Vivera, one other meat-free enterprise within the Netherlands, not too long ago acquired by meat large JBS in Brazil, can also be exploring seaweed. Chief govt Willem van Weede says: “We’ve utilized numerous totally different options and preserve testing new options to present merchandise a salty and umami flavour with out utilizing, or whereas lowering, precise salt.
“We’re very conscious of latest developments within the space of seaweed and can apply [the ingredient] so long as general style profiles are positively influenced and nutritionals supported. We think about this one of many persevering with methods ahead.”
And for vegans, seaweed could be a perfect supply of iodine mostly present in dairy and seafood merchandise.
Kerry Torrens, a UK-based registered nutritionist with the British Affiliation for Diet and Life-style Medication, says the issue with utilizing seaweed as a substitute is it’s not so efficient as a preservative and isn’t as low-cost as salt.
Nevertheless, she says the purple seaweed varieties are a “full supply of protein” and are similar to soya – one other extensively used ingredient in plant-based meals, which has been criticised for being closely GMO or for having its personal detrimental impacts on the surroundings in elements of the world.
A two-sided dietary image
Torrens says that the human physique doesn’t digest seaweed proteins as simply as these derived from soya or eggs, though she factors on the market are advantages, particularly round intestine well being, the place fermented merchandise reminiscent of kefir and kimchi are gaining in reputation within the West.
She paints a two-sided image: “The non-digestible starchy parts or polysaccharides in seaweed are literally actually useful for our intestine well being. There’s large curiosity within the microbiota and the affect of all these little useful micro organism that reside inside our intestine on our general well being.”
“And that is partly the place the immune system is available in as a result of these intestine micro organism assist to manage our immune responses, assist enhance our defences and in addition clearly retains our justice system wholesome.
“However, they’re very excessive in some vitamins like iodine, and there have been some research to say, if you happen to ate an inexpensive portion of seaweed greater than twice every week, you’d be consuming an excessive amount of iodine.
“And one explicit research checked out post-menopausal Japanese ladies, they usually discovered that they have been extra vulnerable to thyroid most cancers. In order with all the pieces, there’s pluses and minuses however the nutrient content material is nice when it comes to iodine, iron, B12, and antioxidants.”
Addressing the difficulty across the potential presence of poisonous metals, Torrens says a lot will depend on the place the seaweed is sourced, and on the finish of the day “you acquire in a single hand and also you lose within the different”.
“I believe general, it’s a extremely pure product. Sadly, we’ve polluted our world, which has induced issues and it’s the identical with oily fish, we’ve polluted our seas and induced issues there. So long as seaweed is consumed as a part of a well-balanced weight loss program, I believe it makes a beneficial contribution in quite a lot of methods, nutritionally and for the intestine.”
Within the US, Robert Mock, the co-founder and CEO of New Frontier Meals, says seaweed was already catching on Stateside and within the UK even earlier than the pandemic elevated demand for health-inducive meals, depicting Covid-19 as “including rocket gas to the equation”.
“I believe anyone who’s gone to the seaside, taken a swim and both stepped on seaweed or received seaweed on their palms or a mouthful of seawater goes to be hesitant to choose up seaweed as a snack over a potato chip. And I believe that’s why branding and advertising and marketing is so necessary to the equation,” Mock explains.
The corporate is greatest recognized for its flagship model Ocean’s Halo, encompassing snacks, sauces and seasonings, noodle bowls, and sushi nori, the dried seaweed utilized in Japanese delicacies, all containing a component of seaweed kelp because the dietary ingredient.
Profitable mainstream shelf-space
New Frontier additionally produces seaweed salt as a condiment, however it’s added to merchandise as effectively to scale back sodium.
Ocean’s Halo has listings with main retailers together with Walmart and Kroger, whereas the model can also be out there in Tesco shops within the UK. Gross sales of sushi nori preserve rising and Mock says the truth that seaweed merchandise are successful shelf house in mainstream grocery shops is testomony to the newfound curiosity as soon as dominated by well being meals outlets.
“There’s lots of adoption, a quick adoption fee, and we expect that it’s taking off,” Mock says. “The model and the design are very approachable and meant to interrupt down that barrier for mainstream shoppers – individuals who didn’t develop up on seaweed.”
Keith Paterson, the joint managing director at Shore – The Scottish Seaweed Co. in Wick, Scotland, which makes seaweed pesto and snacks, says many seaweed merchandise imported from Asia are inclined to have robust fishy flavours which can be off-putting for western shoppers, making seaweed the equal of Marmite unfold, the place you both adore it or loath it.
Paterson explains that 100kg of freshly harvested seaweed turns into 10kg when dried, leaving a product that’s “full of diet”, which, he says, is why firms manufacturing purposeful components are beginning to experiment with it.
“I believe individuals within the trade ought to recognise that it’s not going to be an in a single day success. There’s lots of work, and I believe there’s lots of university-type work to unlock a number of the extra superior dietary points of seaweed. There’s going to be gradual progress I might think about, somewhat than a sudden growth.
“However, if you consider superfoods, they have a tendency to come back from South America or Africa. We’ve received this on our doorstep, an amazing useful resource and it’s fully sustainable. We’ve received to take a look at methods of getting it within the weight loss program.”
Dr Craig Rose, a marine biologist, founder and managing director of Seaweed & Co. in Scotland, explains that the seaweed used within the agency’s merchandise is ascophyllum nodosum – or egg wrack – which isn’t “crazily” excessive in iodine like another sorts of kelp. He additionally addresses how seaweed may also help with iodine deficiency, which he suggests is prevalent within the UK and elsewhere within the West.
“In the event you’re a vegan, neglect it. In the event you’re not having any kind of supplementation, you’re not getting anyplace close to enough iodine. Seaweed is definitely the one plant-based, pure supply of iodine.
“The opposite facet to that sword is, in case you are going for a number of the kelps which can be very excessive [in iodine], you would have an excessive amount of, however truthfully all the information just about exhibits that if you happen to take a look at locations the place they devour lots of seaweed, there isn’t anyplace close to the problems of an excessive amount of iodine. As a result of it’s in a pure kind, as a result of it’s bounded within the fibres, lots of it is going to go by,” Rose says.
A wholesome place for seaweed dietary supplements
Seaweed & Co provides seaweed as a health-and-nutrition ingredient to meals producers, nutraceutical, and drinks companies, and in addition has the Weed & Great shopper model, which is now targeted on dietary supplements after additionally branching out into cooking oils.
The corporate gained listings for the oils at UK grocery store Sainsbury’s and kitchenware retailer chain Lakeland. Rose says the merchandise have been “nice and folks liked them”, insisting the “repurchase fee” at Sainsbury’s “was truly actually good”.
Nevertheless, the onset of Covid-19 affected the budding oils enterprise. The class overview at Sainsbury’s, set for April final 12 months, clashed with UK grocers specializing in core SKUs, whereas the pandemic noticed Lakeland have to shut its shops.
Within the meantime, Seaweed & Co.’s dietary supplements gross sales grew quickly, main gross sales from the corporate’s consumer-facing arm to surpass these from its B2B operation.
Rose says the main focus of the agency’s shopper enterprise is squarely on dietary supplements. “Our dietary dietary supplements have been flying. We’re in Boots and Holland and Barrett with these. QVC has been a unbelievable marketplace for us, particularly with individuals which can be at residence extra,” he says.
“We do get lots of curiosity [in our oils] from abroad predominantly. The idea undoubtedly we might deliver again however I assume we’d most likely react to the chance versus pushing it ourselves.”
Nonetheless, Rose says Covid-19 has solidified the curiosity in well being meals and seaweed demand is prone to develop on the again of it. The corporate’s B2B clients embody PepsiCo and, even when Covid-19 delayed tasks with different shoppers, Rose says “curiosity remains to be there”.
“They’re giving us an enormous lag time throughout all classes,” he provides. “We’re beginning to see the inquiries and the tasks reignite within the meals house within the final month or so.”
Rose says his confidence within the growth of a marketplace for packaged meals containing seaweed as an ingredient is undimmed. “I’d say I used to be much more assured due to the rise in consciousness and curiosity in well being and wellness amongst a much wider sector of the inhabitants,” he says.
“Seaweed is just not a silver bullet for all the pieces – nothing is. Nevertheless it addresses some very clear wants – iodine is a key one. Even if you happen to’re not totally vegan, persons are going extra flexitarian, so seaweed has a extremely constructive house available in the market as an ingredient to supply this pure supply of iodine, which is a necessary nutrient. You must get it in in your weight loss program.”
He provides: “Individuals have develop into extra conscious of their well being, not simply particularly immunity, however the wider wellness which then helps your immunity. I believe it’s solely going a method.”