In the midst of the last unofficial week of summer, with Labor Day approaching, there’s no better time to talk about seaweed. Yes, seaweed actually is a very trendy topic these days.
Most of us think of seaweed as the slimy stuff to be avoided when we go to the beach. Apparently however, seaweed is not something to be avoided, but embraced. It is often touted as a “superfood” because it contains antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and a lot of vitamins and minerals, most noteworthy of which is iodine, a vital nutrient that keeps our thyroids regulated.
Seaweed is a sea vegetable prevalently featured in Japanese cuisine, particularly sushi, but trends newsletter Cassandra Daily says it could “threaten kale’s reign as queen green.” In fact an independent culinary council commissioned by the Sterling-Rice Group, a marketing agency, named seaweed one of 10 Food Trends worth watching this year. Foodie magazine Bon Appetit called seaweed the “new, hip health food” and says restaurants across the country are using it to make everything from butter to beignets.
But Cassandra Daily reports the benefits of seaweed reach far beyond the kitchen. Haeckels, a British beauty company, hand harvests wild seaweeds to use in its organic skincare and fragrance products.
The sea veggie is becoming so popular that this weekend (August 30th) there will be a Seaweed Fest (the Maine Seaweed Festival) to raise awareness about the algae and the impact it can have on the local economy. The seaweed business is a diverse one. In addition to restaurants and beauty businesses, the Festival will highlight the chain of small businesses it takes to get seaweed out of the ocean and into consumers’ hands, including harvesters, farmers, fishermen, processors and craftspeople who use seaweed in their creations. Maine is trying to “create a viable and vibrant seaweed industry.”
Along those lines, the Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. in Belfast, Maine just debuted its Sea Belt Scotch Ale last month, made from locally-sourced seaweed. (Apparently seaweed beer has long been a popular beverage in Scotland.)
There are number of small businesses already making seaweed snacks, including SeaSnax, Annie Chun’s and Sea’s Gift, which are growing in popularity because while they’re naturally salty and crisp (like chips), they’re low in calories. (Some may find the taste a bit fishy, which could inhibit some sales, however.)
Before you dismiss this as just another food fad, the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (from the American Chemical Society) published a study in 2011 that reported some of the proteins found in seaweed could help reduce blood pressure and improve heart health.
There’s a lot of opportunity in seaweed—perhaps it’s worth a trip to the beach this weekend to check it out.