Science Sees Seaweed Benefits, Climate Help from Kelp

May 8, 2019

New York Times:

Harvesting wild kelp is ancient, but farming it is relatively new in the United States; it’s the main variety of seaweed being cultivated here. The technology was imported from Asia and adopted here by a group of ecologically minded entrepreneurs who view seaweed as the food crop of the future. Kelp is nutritionally dense (it’s loaded with potassium, iron, calcium, fiber, iodine and a bevy of vitamins); it actively benefits ocean health by mitigating excess carbon dioxide and nitrogen; and can provide needed income to small fisheries threatened by climate change and overfishing.
“Kelp is a superhero of seaweed,” said Susie Arnold, a marine scientist at the Island Institute in Rockland, Me. “It de-acidifies the ocean by removing nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon dioxide, which we have too much of.”

A feel-good superfood, kelp is more than the new kale. It’s a rare bright spot on an increasingly dim horizon, an umami-rich glint of hope.

“Kelp is sustainable on so many levels,” said Briana Warner, the chief executive officer of Atlantic Sea Farms, a Maine kelp company that’s helping local fishermen start kelp farms. “It’s environmentally sustainable, it’s physically sustaining because it’s so good for you, and farming it helps sustain family livelihoods that are in danger of disappearing.”
Ocean scientists call kelp farming a zero-input food source. It doesn’t require arable land, fresh water and fertilizers (or pesticides). And kelp farming has been shown to improve water quality to such a degree that shellfish farmed amid the kelp develop noticeably thicker shells and sweeter, larger meat.
Before the first kelp farms started in Maine about a decade ago, if you wanted to cook with edible seaweed (not to be confused with the decidedly undelicious rockweed that washes up on beaches), you’d have go to the shore and forage it yourself.

“Kelp is sustainable on so many levels,” said Briana Warner, the chief executive officer of Atlantic Sea Farms, a Maine kelp company that’s helping local fishermen start kelp farms. “It’s environmentally sustainable, it’s physically sustaining because it’s so good for you, and farming it helps sustain family livelihoods that are in danger of disappearing.”
Ocean scientists call kelp farming a zero-input food source. It doesn’t require arable land, fresh water and fertilizers (or pesticides). And kelp farming has been shown to improve water quality to such a degree that shellfish farmed amid the kelp develop noticeably thicker shells and sweeter, larger meat.
Before the first kelp farms started in Maine about a decade ago, if you wanted to cook with edible seaweed (not to be confused with the decidedly undelicious rockweed that washes up on beaches), you’d have go to the shore and forage it yourself.

In the United States, though, dried seaweed has not yet left the health-food fringes, relegated to the same category as nutritional yeast and chia seeds.
One reason may be our lack of exposure to the good stuff. The majority of seaweed salads I get with my sushi are cloying and damp, lacking the mineral zing of fresh kelp.
John Magazino, a product development specialist at the Chefs’ Warehouse, a specialty food supplier for restaurants, explained why fresh kelp is so different from the seaweed you find in most seaweed salads: “Most of the seaweed salads we get in the States are imported from Asia, where they add corn syrup and dyes. Seaweed salad shouldn’t be sweet and neon green.”

Mr. Magazino, who finds truffles and caviar for Daniel Boulud and David Chang, has been selling frozen fresh Maine-grown kelp to chefs for the past three years. He was on Mr. Papkee’s boat to make sure he’d have the quality and quantity of kelp he’d need for distribution to his high-end clients.
“Once the chefs taste it, and understand how good it is for the ocean, they all want in,” he said.

San Diego Tribune:

Those concerned with climate change may soon feel less compunction about biting into a cheeseburger. 
Researchers have recently discovered that feeding cattle and other livestock a specific type of seaweed — known as Asparagopsis taxiformis — can dramatically reduce the massive amount of planet-warming methane such farm animals burp and fart into the atmosphere. 
Scientists from San Diego to Vietnam to Australia are now working overtime to figure out how to best cultivate the underwater plant — which a growing number of private aquaculture companies are seeing as a potential cash cow.
Whether motivated by profits or global warming, the race is on to patent recipes for growing the seaweed and then figuring out how to ramp up production. Global demand is expected to far outstrip the capacity to harvest the subtropical seaweed from the wild.

In California alone there are 1.8 million dairy cows, with farmers of the greenhouse-gas spewing animals facing a state mandate to slash their methane emissions 40 percent by 2030. Experts also expect that agricultural businesses may adopt the practice regardless of government pressure in order to market themselves as more environmentally friendly.

“Every time I talk about it, I get goosebumps,” said Jennifer Smith, a marine biologist at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who said she can envision the university spinning off a local start-up to help meet local demand for the seaweed. But first, she has to dial in the recipe. 
For several months, Smith has been experimenting in her lab with cultivating the seaweed to, among other things, maximize concentrations of bromoform — the compound that blocks the production of methane in cows, sheep, goats and other ruminant animals.

“This is the sporophyte,” she said at her lab in La Jolla, holding one of a dozen flasks filled with the red algae, dancing in aerated seawater. “In this case, the bubbles are not as vigorous, allowing these puff balls to get bigger.
“By just manipulating nitrogen and phosphorous, we have already seen that we can double the concentrations of bromoform in just a week,” she added. 
The red-colored sporophyte is one of several phases of Asparagopsis. The subtropical seaweed also has a more fleshy stage with long stalks and branches.
Experts are currently debating in which stage to grow the seaweed. The practical considerations include not only the cost of cultivation but its carbon footprint. If growing the seaweed and shipping it to farms generates considerable amounts of greenhouse gas, the process could cancel out the benefits of reducing methane.
Growing Asparagopsis as a sporophyte, for example, would likely require doing so in tanks of sterilized seawater to prevent contamination of the clingy plant material. That means using some form of energy to pump in air and nitrogen.

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3 Responses to “Science Sees Seaweed Benefits, Climate Help from Kelp”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I’m a major fan of processing many foods. If insects, grubs and algae can be turned into useful, nutrient-rich flours or meals and flavored up to be tasty, I’m all for it. I see no reason to preserve the original form-factor of the organisms. I’m already a big fan of krab.

  2. J4Zonian Says:

    “Before the first kelp farms started in Maine about a decade ago, if you wanted to cook with edible seaweed … you’d have go to the shore and forage it yourself.

    In the United States, though, dried seaweed has not yet left the health-food fringes, relegated to the same category as nutritional yeast and chia seeds.”

    Both of those statements are nonsense. Nori, kombu (kelp), hijiki, wakame, arame, Irish moss, and dulse are some of the kinds of sea vegetables that have been available not only in natural food stores but anywhere Japanese or even generally Asian foods have been available for a generation at least.

    A Visual Guide to Sea Vegetables
    https://www.marksdailyapple.com/a-visual-guide-to-sea-vegetables/

    Unfortunately the article linked to underplays the likely toxicity of sea vegetables, especially in light of recent studies showing that lower-than-legal levels of toxic chemicals are more dangerous than thought. This is a half-century old trend at least, in which continually lower levels become measurable and are found to be toxic. Paradoxically, lower levels of some chemicals can actually do more profound harm than higher levels. (Steingraber, Living Downstream)

  3. Abel Adamski Says:

    The great Kelp Forests off Tasmania’s Southern coast and Western Australia’s coast were absolutely decimated by ocean heatwaves, so don’t depend too much on them


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