Seaweed's superpowers
Versatile, carbon-sequestering and nutritious
Seaweed is not just a food, it's part of the solution
Seaweed is a highly nutritious food and versatile plant with a vast array of benefits. Unlike most land-based crops, it requires no agricultural inputs aside from sunlight and water. Seaweed helps clean our oceans and air by sequestering carbon (up to 20% more than terrestrial plants), absorbing nitrogen from land-based run-off (preventing acidification of the ocean), and providing a marine habitat for sea creatures. It's also a scalable plant to grow because over 70% of the world is covered by water.
There are three main types of seaweed; green, red and brown. Green seaweed is bright-green and usually used in fresh dishes like Japanese seaweed salad. Red seaweed is typically used as a sushi wrapper and also makes carrageenan. Brown seaweed can be found in a lot of sauces or soups. For example, brown wakame helps flavor miso soup. Boiling kombu makes a broth. And kelp is often dried out and sprinkled on top of dishes for a little salty yet savory flavoring.

Besides adding an umami flavor to dishes, seaweed is good for you too. Seaweed provides nutrients like iron, potassium, vitamin B6, and iodine (although exact nutrients vary by type.) For example, nori is high in protein and vitamins A and C. Seaweed is also high in fiber--but you'd need to eat a lot of it to get your daily recommended dose.
Seaweed is a traditional, modern, and even pet food. It has been a staple food in Asian cultures for centuries. Iceland, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland have also historically cultivated seaweed as a traditional food and health remedy.
With the global movement of food culture and people, seaweed is now familiar to Western palates too. It's growing in popularity and moved beyond sushi. Trader Joe's sells seaweed snacks, and San Francisco-based 12 Tides introduced the seaweed puff. Recently, Sweetgreen announced they would be adding nori to a new salad concept for some umami-oomph.
Cows release 80% less methane when they consume seaweed in their diet.
And it's not just humans that are eating seaweed these days. Farmers that add it to the diets of livestock see positive results. One study reported that cows release 80% less methane when they consume seaweed in their diet. Another study showed how seaweed improved the health of sheep as well as providing environmental benefits. We're starting to see it being added to pet food too.
You can do more than eat seaweed. Companies use it in cosmetics, packaging, a replacement for single-use plastics like straws, pharmaceuticals, fertilizer, and much more.
Farming seaweed
Seaweed farmers use various methods to cultivate it. Usually, they start seaweed off in a sheltered hatchery for 4-6 weeks. Here they provide a stable surface or rope for the seaweed spores to attach to and then move the plants underwater once the seaweed has sprouted. Once under the sea, it doesn't need much attention or resources to grow. Sometimes other creatures colonize the surface or rope. However, seaweed farmers tend to grow in the winter months to mitigate that. If they notice a nutrient deficiency in the seaweed, they will move the ropes or growing surface to a different spot in the sea. No fertilizer needed!
Seaweed grows faster than most land plants, up to a foot a day. Once out in the sea, it can mature in 6 months or less. After harvest, some purveyors sell it fresh, but most either dry or freeze it first.
Can seaweed save the world?
Seaweed has an abundance of superpowers, although it might need a little extra help to save the whole world. It's growing in popularity as a food and resource worldwide. Seaweed offers an abundance of positive environmental and ecosystem benefits, coupled with a fast growing season and relatively few needs. We might need more than seaweed to save the world. Still, it can definitely contribute to feeding our growing world's population and reducing other industries' agricultural bi-products.
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