Ok, ok—neither kale nor kelp are all that new. Kale was a staple green in many diets long before it became the food trend hit of 2010s and I became obsessed with kale chips. Seaweed has been part of the human diet since ancient times, and is a big-time crop in Asia. But growing kelp in the U.S. is new territory for a few entrepreneurial farmers.
That's the subject of the latest episode of Gastropod, a food podcast that digs into the history and science of what we eat. Although invasive seaweeds can be a problem, there are many varieties of kelp that are native to North America, and may help remediate other environmental problems.
Nicola Twilley and Cynthia Graber of Gastropod interview scientists who have been studying the potential benefits of kelp. Kelp can suck up a lot of the excess fertilizers that are running into our waterways, like nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients can lead to algae blooms—which in turn create oxygen-deprived dead zones. But while kelp is sucking up nutrients, researchers have found that it’s not ingesting toxins, so the plants remain safe to eat.
You can have a listen to the full episode here:
So, why eat kelp? Like kale, it’s a nutritional powerhouse. It’s a good source of iodine, and also contain B vitamins, vitamin C, iron and other essential minerals. Plus, local seaweed farms would mean Americans can enjoy this food without the carbon footprint associated with shipping it from Asia. However, many of these farms are just starting out, so their product isn't widely available--although Ocean Approved does sell fresh frozen kelp from Maine in bulk online.
Aside from being poised to be the next superfood, seaweed has already found many eco-friendly applications. Researchers propose seaweed could be used to make better biofuel, because it wouldn’t compete for land with food crops. It can also be used as insulation, animal feed and even to make lampshades.