While seaweed has typically been thought of as a snack food mainly enjoyed in Asia, studies are actually showing the consumption of Seaweed in the U.S. may be on the rise. In response to the new “super food” health craze, people all over are starting to recognize the benefits of snacking on this form of oceanic algae.
*Graph shows global seaweed production trends
And why, you may ask, should we care that now we can find stand-alone seaweed in our supermarkets rather than obscurely hidden within our sushi roles?
Well for one, seaweed is actually chalked full of vital nutrients like protein, and even has high amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber; so consuming seaweed could effectively improve your health. But what about what it can do for the environment?
On terms of typical forms of aquaculture, the cultivation of seaweed maybe one of the only forms that actually has the potential to IMPROVE environmental quality rather than deplete it. If we think about some of the main issues with modern agricultural practices, these involve the depletion of fresh water stores for irrigation, excessive use of fertilizer and chemical additives, and increased carbon emissions from mechanization. What is amazing about this unconventional little snack is that it requires little to none of all those major inputs.
First off, seaweed is raised with relatively low amounts of technology and mechanization, which means we can reduce carbon emissions at this stage of production. On terms of carbon absorption, seaweed photosynthetic rates are also five times more efficient than land based plants. Furthermore, while traditional aquaculture usually necessitates large inputs of fertilizer, antibiotics and chemicals–seaweed has the capacity to sustain itself, and even flourish, without these inputs. Due to the fact that it is cultivated in water, often times in its native habitat, seaweed production also does not contribute to freshwater depletion or deforestation issues that currently threaten many terrestrial surfaces.
Yet somehow it gets better—seaweed is one of the fasting growing plants in the world. Given its high concentrations of oil and protein, this rapidly growing plant could potentially serve as a vital new food staple, or even contribute to world energy demands through its potential conversion to biofuel. Furthermore, there is the possibility of its conversion to fertilizer as a third option as well.
So with the ability to in fact improve environmental quality while also meeting human energy needs, perhaps we should all like seaweed a little bit more.