The next go-to green
Unless you are a fan of such Asian specialties as sushi (wrapped in nori) or miso soup (simmered with wakame), you may not be familiar with (or fond of) the taste and texture of seaweed. But fan or familiar or not, you soon will be hearing a lot more about the health and environmental benefits of the hundreds of varieties of edible algae.
From coast to coast, seaweed is being touted as the newest superfood, rich in protein, calcium, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants (which help prevent inflammation), trace minerals and iodine. The National Institutes of Health cites seaweed as one of the best food sources of iodine, important to fetal development and thyroid hormone production.
Early adapters agree. The seaweed snack business is growing rapidly, ringing up $500 million in sales in 2014. A new culinary algae oil called Thrive — which is lower in total fat, is higher in monounsaturated fat and has a higher smoke point than olive, coconut and canola oils — hit the California market last fall, with a national roll-out and an algaebased butter product scheduled for release this year.
A research lab at Oregon State University has patented a new strain of dulse that apparently tastes like bacon when it’s fried, with a flavor and texture that will be familiar to lovers of DLTs (dulse, lettuce and tomato sandwiches).
But seaweed as superfood is not just a West Coast phenomenon. Fishermen on the East Coast have been spotted wearing T-shirts that read, “Kelp Is the New Kale” — a testament not only to the sea vegetable’s health benefits but also to its potential benefit to the planet. In the face of predictions of fishless oceans before the end of the 21st century, fishermen may decide to become kelp farmers, raising a different and more sustainable kind of seafood.
As with all good foods, it’s important not to eat too much and to know where your seaweed comes from. It should come from unpolluted waters and should not be sprayed with chemicals while it’s drying. The many varieties of kelp vary enormously in iodine content — from 16 to more than 2,900 micrograms (mcg) per serving. And too much iodine can cause as many health problems as too little; the NIH recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 150 mcg per day, although other authorities set the limit as high as 600 mcg.
As with any new “miracle food,” you can find a lot of information about seaweed on the web. Some claims are accurate, but some are dangerously wrong — so be sure the source is reliable. You can find an accurate, detailed discussion of seaweed’s nutritional and eco credentials in the November 2, 2015, issue of The New Yorker, available online at www.newyorker.com/ magazine/2015/11/02/a-new-leaf.