Eating seaweed may be something you only associate with your favourite sushi, but societies around the globe have been utilizing this superfood since homosapians began to forage. Costal indigenous tribes widely used seaweed as a foundation in their diet until European colonization altered this tradition. Lisa Barrell is the program director at the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe yəhúməct Traditional Foods and Culture Program. She works with indigenous peoples to reclaim food sovereignty, highlighting the ingredients that were pushed to the side. “Using a village model, we are bringing groups together to learn about harvesting and processing land and sea foods, and plants, bark, and roots with cultural and medicinal uses.”
Plant-based lifestyles are on the rise and with it an interest in alternative nutritious ingredients. Seaweed is a strong contender and a powerhouse of nutrients. Depending on the varietal it can be full of antioxidants, high amounts of iodine and trace minerals (which support your thyroid), protein, Omega-3’s, and B12. It has even been linked as a possible cure for type 2 diabetes. Fish don’t produce omega-3’s, something we like to include in our diets, but they eat it, so eating fish you’ll get your omegas straight to the source.
With the popularization of tide-to-table nutrition, sustainable seaweed farms have been increasing in numbers globally. Bren Smith is a restorative ocean farmer and the executive director and co-founder of GreenWave alongside Emily Stengel. Together they have built an organization dedicated to training a new generation of ocean farmers. Mostly female operated, GreenWave is a non-profit that is “re-imagining the role of the fisherman, from hunter-gatherer to ocean entrepreneur, growing food, fuel, and fertilizer for local communities”.
Seaweed absorbs five times more carbon than land-based plants and restores water quality through its powerful nitrogen absorption rate. Smith considers himself a “climate farmer” not just a fisherman. His seaweed farms not only act as a storm surge protector, guarding the shores but also provide an entire ecosystem of life via the powerful filtration of the seaweed itself. GreenWave seeks to bring their farms around the world and educate new ocean farmers, create food access, and positively impact the environment. An article in the Seattle Met stated that “a kelp farm the size of Washington State has enough protein to feed the earth’s population”.
If eating seaweed to get your nutrient quota doesn’t get you excited, there are other ways to reap the benefits of this food. Spirulina and blue spirulina, also known as blue-green algae, are a powerhouse superfood with similar health benefits to kelp and you can add it to almost anything. Mermaid latte anyone? The health benefits of this algae are seemingly endless, aiding in health issues such as high cholesterol, high glucose, diabetes, brain fog, anxiety, depression, weight gain, just to name a few.
Harvested in salt and fresh waters, spirulina can be sourced in a powdered, pill, liquid or frozen form. One source for an organic, and sustainably harvested spirulina called Blue Majik can be found at E3Live. Harvested from Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, this detoxifying blue-green algae is a powerful superfood carrying significantly more protein than industrially raised beef, and more calcium than milk. A note of caution when choosing your spirulina, do your research as not all are created equal so ensure you are purchasing from a clean source.
Algae is a powerhouse of nutrients and a sustainable food source. Recently featured in the documentary The Need To Grow visionary inventor Michael Smith devised an entirely closed-loop waste management system of which the by-product was an algae he used as a soil superfood to aid farmers in fertilizing and regenerating dead chemically treated conventionally farmed soils.
Seaweed is also used for far more than just food, it is incorporated into livestock feed and substantially reduces methane emissions from cattle; is an ingredient in toothpaste, cosmetics and paints. And if you have ever had an impression of your teeth taken at the dentist, that gooey material is called alginate, which is a seaweed-based compound also used in paper coatings, adhesives, dyes, gels, and even explosives.
Seaweed is one of the superfood treasures of the sea. If you are looking for a sustainable, plant-based ingredient to boost your nutrient intake and your overall health, seaweed may just be an option worth trying.
Melissa Finn, Stifado.