Jane Wolfe dives into the world of seaweed to discover how its nutritional value, sustainable credentials and varied applications – from food to supplements, beauty to packaging – are being recognized and utilized
Seaweed has been garnering some diverse press attention recently: North Sea Farmers are set to launch the world’s first seaweed farm between wind turbines in the North
Sea, funded by Amazon; in Israel, new technology has been developed to enable the growth of nutritionally powerful ‘super seaweed’; and UK start-up NotPla became an Earthshot Prize-winner for its green, seaweed-based packaging.
One man who has been extolling the virtues of seaweed for over 25 years is Simon Ranger, founder of Seagreens. The Seagreens project started in Norway in 1997 with a mission to produce the ‘best wild seaweeds specifically for human nutrition’ and has since developed sustainable harvesting and production in the British Isles and the Nordic region. In addition to producing its own products, Seagreens’ certified ingredients are used in food and health products by brands including Pukka Herbs, Green People, Viridian Nutrition, Cytoplan and Heath & Heather.
Seagreens was also instrumental in developing the first production standard for seaweed for human consumption, introduced in 2016 as the Nutritious Food Seaweed quality assurance scheme and standard, to provide full transparency.
“Beyond any other virtue it may have, whole seaweed is a uniquely complete source of all the micronutrients not replicable in land-grown foods or formulated supplements,” explains Ranger. “This is the main reason to include seaweed in our diet. Micronutrients are deficient in large sections of the population, in our agricultural soils, and profoundly imbalanced in manufactured foods.
“Whereas land-grown foods have comparatively limited nutritional profiles (which is why a balanced diet requires variety), seaweed contains a little of all the nutrients, including all the minerals and trace elements which leach from our overworked and under-replenished soils into this vast soup literally at the bottom of the food chain.
“Unlike proteins, carbohydrates and fats, which fuel our daily activities, micronutrients are the catalysts for thousands of daily processes to defend, detox, digest, grow, repair and above all, balance the nutritional profile of our daily food. They are taken up by receptors in the body, in tiny amounts, but frequently, which is why they are called micronutrients. Any excess to fairly immediate requirement is normally broken down for its useful components or excreted.”
Whereas land-grown foods have comparatively limited nutritional profiles … seaweed contains a little of all the nutrients
Ranger proposes that a small amount of seaweed be used daily as a dietary supplement rather than consumed as food. “A gram a day of seaweed of a known, balanced composition, in an otherwise healthy diet is enough, that is a quarter teaspoon of dried granulated seaweed. It fills the gaps. Even in an imbalanced or restricted diet, in recuperation or nutritional therapy, seldom more than a few grams are needed, but daily use is essential because the most valuable micronutrients are neither manufactured by the body, nor readily stored.”
“One of the most important aspects of the Seagreens project was to make it very easy indeed to use the seaweed in everyday food and drinks or capsules and for all ages and in any health condition,” says Ranger.
Dr Craig Rose (aka Doctor Seaweed) MD of Seaweed & Co, cites research showing that although 88% of consumers believe seaweed is good for them, 78% rarely or never consume it. “When you look at the reasons it was down to availability and accessibility of product formats. If we get this right, then consumers are really engaged and looking for seaweed products. We did the maths recently, and have sold well over 12 million capsules. End-to-end, that is as long as 3,700 blue whales or over ten times the height of Mount Everest. That shows the extent at which consumers are getting on board, and that’s really just the UK for us.
“As a marine biologist, I have always been passionate about bringing sustainable seaweed to people in ways that they can really engage with, and to make them look and feel wonderful,” says Rose. “Seaweed is something people inherently know is good for them, but the format of how they include it in their daily diets needed to be accessible and appealing. This is why supplements are an ideal way to help people engage with seaweed and see the benefits for their health and wider wellness.”
One of the nutrients seaweed is best known for providing is Iodine, the deficiency of which impacts about two billion people globally, with one study finding that 60% of females over 55 are deficient, which is particularly concerning as our bodies can’t produce the nutrient.
“Seaweed is a powerhouse of nutrition, and the core focus and benefit nutritionally is the natural source of essential iodine,” says Rose. “This is a nutrient that the vast majority of us do not get in our diets. Seaweed is the only natural and plant-based source of iodine. Without sufficient iodine in our diet, our thyroid cannot work properly, and an underactive thyroid can lead to issues of weight gain, low energy, brittle hair and nails, poor skin, loss of libido and sensitivity to cold.” He asserts that by incorporating seaweed into the daily diet, the benefits can be seen within weeks.
Precisely because of its extraordinarily broad and valuable composition, any seaweed for human nutrition … must be subject to scrutiny
As is so often the case in any burgeoning sector, growth comes with quality and sustainability issues. “Precisely because of its extraordinarily broad and valuable composition, any seaweed for human nutrition, wherever in the world it’s produced, must be subject to scrutiny and monitored using independent, accredited compositional analysis,” stresses Ranger. “We must know what we’re eating. A lot of seaweed on the market today has dubious provenance, both from small artisan and industrial scale production, and increasingly of deeper water species from offshore cultivation, driven more by investment in carbon capture than for its nutritional use.”
Rose sources seaweed from the pristine Scottish Outer Hebrides, where it is sustainably wild harvested on specially adapted boats that simply trim the top of the seaweed. “It is then carefully dried and milled using our own proprietary technologies before placing
in the capsules with the other natural and plant-based nutrients used across the range,” he explains.
“We focus on one species as it is sustainable and has very good natural levels of iodine. Being able to get high quality, safe and nutritious seaweed at large volumes and sustainably is critical in growing the market and giving people access to this essential nutrition. Traceability too is critical to our process, and we offer online transparent traceability of every batch we produce,” he adds, emphasizing that this is a growing consideration for consumers.
A question of taste
For those who love seaweed straight up, Clearspring is a go-to brand, offering everything from Nori for sushi to Organic Atlantic Sea Spaghetti, which can be added to pastas, soups, salads and stews, and Japanese Hokkaido Kombu for creating vegan dashi stock.
But for those who aren’t so enamoured with the taste or texture of seaweed, there are plenty of options that can be easily incorporated into the diet, such as Clearspring’s Green Nori & Tamari Brown Rice Crackers and Sea Vegetable & Black Pepper Organic Oatcakes, or Ocean’s Halo recently launched Trayless (plastic-free) Seaweed Snacks – thin sheets of seaweed in Sea Salt, Wasabi and Maui Onion varieties.
More snacking ideas come from Shore Seaweed, which along with a duo of Ramen Broths in Chilli and Miso, has created a four-strong range of Seaweed Chips in Lightly Salted, Sweet Sriracha, Peking Duck and Smoky Barbecue. And for the slightly more adventurous, how about its Seaweed Pestos? Available in Red Pepper, Dulse & Chilli, Italian Basil and Black Kale, the plant-based pestos are high in iodine and contain vegan cheese.
Abakus Foods’ crispy tapioca-coated Seaweed Crisps are available in Sea Salted, Salt & Vinegar and (vegan) Cheese flavours; and in addition to its Seaweed Chips range, Seamore’s collection also spans Seaweed Wraps, Pasta and even Bacon, which consumers can easily use in place of conventional equivalents.
Seaweed condiments are a great way to sprinkle additional nutrients into any dish, and Mara Seaweed’s collection features Shony Seaweed Flakes which blend Palmaria palmata, Laminaria digitata and Saccharina latissima for an everyday seasoning to add a salty, umami flavour without the hit of sodium salt; and Dulse Powder, which imparts a natural, smoky taste is a multifunctional ingredient for use in baking, stir-fries, roasting, chocolate cake, salad ‘and everything in between’.
Commenting on the future potential of this sea-based superfood, Rose remarks: “Seaweed is a forgotten food and resource that is being rediscovered for a huge range of diverse industries. My focus is health and nutrition, and there are also biomaterials, biofuels, biomedical and pharmaceutical benefits of seaweed. It is a sustainable resource with vast scope to give us and the planet a positive and hopeful future in which all can thrive. Estimates of market size by 2030 reach $48 billion globally.”
Seaweed is a forgotten food and resource that is being rediscovered for a huge range of diverse industries
Ranger cautions that although the British Isles has among the best of chances to take top quality seaweed into international markets, it needs the Government to restructure the regulatory framework and get behind the innovators if progress is to be made, adding: “As ‘an industry’, other countries like Canada and Norway are streaks ahead.”
We can only hope that these necessary changes are fast coming because, as Rose asserts: “Seaweed alone is not a panacea – nothing is – but it will play a vital role in providing the nutrition we so desperately need and in a sustainable way.”
Up for a challenge
This year saw a raft of start-ups and SMEs pitch their seaweed-based products in the Seaweed Innovation Challenge, established with North Sea Farmers and Brave New Food. The four successful pitchers were:
Seaweed Food Solutions from the Netherlands which specializes in processing and application of seaweed for the food industry. For the challenge, it presented a plant-based spare rib, made from seaweed and jackfruit – an innovative snack described as ‘juicy, savoury, meaty and even better than the original’.
Seaweed & Co – in addition to its Weed & Wonderful line of supplements and condiments, Seaweed & Co produces PureSea ingredients from wild-harvested seaweed which are supplied in easy-to-use formats designed to be commercially viable for food and nutrition applications.
Kelpi is a UK-based material innovation company which replaces single-use plastics with bioplastics that harness the novel properties and environmental benefits of seaweed. Its bioplastic packaging is home compostable and marine-safe – after use it will readily decompose in under a year, leaving no toxins.
BettaF!sh from Germany creates plant-based Tu-Nah made from seaweed that, it claims, looks like tuna, tastes like tuna, works like tuna, but ‘doesn’t cost a fortuna’. With Europe currently only cultivating five species of seaweed, it wants to invest in R&D to start and scale production of other species to develop seaweed-based alternatives for all food categories.
Green Skin support
With seaweed offering numerous skincare benefits – supporting collagen synthesis, defending against free radicals, prolonging hydration and supporting all-round skin health – here are a few marine-based picks:
Awake Organics Sea Quartz Exfoliating Micro-polish – formulated with organic spirulina and clear quartz crystal powder to slough away dead surface cells, this sweet orange, chamomile and coconut-scented paste transforms to a milk upon contact with water.
Green People for Men – No. 2 Soothing Wash & Shave Gel combines mineral-rich Irish moss – which provides skin slip to protect against razor burn and nicks – with soothing aloe vera, antiseptic grapefruit and mandarin.
Ishaga’s Shampoo & Body Bar features Fucus serratus extract which contains natural polyphenols to help with hair conditioning, dry scalp and damaged skin, alongside soothing aloe vera and spring water.
Essential Blend Skincare’s Super Hydrating Eye Gel is a blend of skin-smoothing botanicals including Ecocert-approved marine algae extract which is high in essential carotenoids and fatty acids to stimulate cell renewal and collagen.
Sea Magik Algimud Active Seaweed Face Mask is a combination of Dead Sea Mud, Dead Sea Salt, and Laminaria digitata (kelp) which has antioxidant properties and a high iodine content to help with dry, flaky patches of skin while helping regulate sebum production.
Voya’s Bouyancy Body Butter blends the brand’s signature hand-harvested, collagen-boosting seaweed with shea butter to moisturize and soothe the skin, while lavender and rosemary energize and revive.
YESforLOV’s Natural Lubricant with Seaweed – this glycerine-free lubricant made with hand-harvested organic Brittany seaweed is designed to protect the pH of vaginal flora and moisturize the mucous membranes.
Sea Quartz Exfoliating Micro-Polish
Sea Quartz is a 100% natural, waterless exfoliation treatment that detoxifies, clears and oxygenates the skin with organic Spirulina and micro-fine Clear Quartz crystal powder. Formulated to slough away dead surface cells and reveal glowing skin. This multi-award winning, vibrant green cleanser harnesses the power of the sea to gently buff away impurities, leaving skin instantly brighter and smoother without over-drying. Sea Quartz nourishes skin with organic Blue Chamomile and softens with organic Hemp Seed oil and Coconut Milk. Rinses away easily with water or can be left on as a mask for even more skin benefits. Designed for all skin types. 100% Natural, vegan, certified cruelty free, plastic free and made in England.
Easy Bean’s Seaweed & Sesame Chickpea Crispbread
A handmade crispbread seasoned with a nutritious and colourful blend of native seaweed. Dulse, Sea Lettuce and Kelp are harvested by hand then slowly dried to lock in essential minerals. The seaweed adds delicious umami flavours (a Japanese word that means a pleasant savoury taste) and provides a good source of iodine. Naturally gluten free chickpea flour, Somerset butter and organic buttermilk are used in the dough, topped with sesame seeds and slowly baked in small batches. Gluten free, high fibre and no added sugar. A delicious snack or serve with lunch.
Sea Moss with Bladderwrack and Spirulina
The power of marine superfoods Irish Sea Moss and Bladderwrack with added Spirulina is specially formulated to promote overall health and wellness providing a comprehensive range of nutrients that can support overall health and wellness. While Irish Sea Moss alone is a valuable addition to any diet, the addition of Bladderwrack and Spirulina in this supplement can provide you with a more complete and balanced nutrient profile. Irish Sea Moss has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to promote digestive health, boost the immune system, and improve overall wellness. Our Irish Sea Moss capsules contain a unique blend of equal amounts of Bladderwrack and Spirulina.
Bursting with a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can promote overall health and wellness including iodine, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium, antioxidants, such as beta-carotene and phycocyanin as well as vitamins A, C, E, B12 and K.
If you are looking for a natural and effective way to improve your health, My Healing Kit’s Seamoss Gel is the perfect solution. Seamoss is a powerful superfood that is rich in essential nutrients & minerals such as Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Iodine, Selenium, Vitamins A-E and K. It can easily be added to your daily wellness routine and benefits people of all ages – whether you are looking to support your immunity, improve gut-health, increase energy levels or do wonders for your skin. MHK’s Seamoss is organic, vegan and free from chemicals or nasties, offering a pure route to your wellness.