A seaweed Thanksgiving: fried yams with dulse

This post follows our segment “A seaweed Thanksgiving.”

Our last dish was mashed potatoes 


Yams are another staple of the traditional Thanksgiving meal. There are many ways to prepare yams, but we found one way that looks especially good.

Yam fries with dulse - While the recipe is not mentioned, it could be gleaned from the basic idea. Leslie Cerier, a chef and author, shared a dish that contained fried yams with dulse seaweed, kelp powder, and toasted sesame seeds. The use of dulse in this dish is very attractive, as dulse is known to be the bacon of seaweeds. Dulse fries well and yields a salty crunch similar to a potato chip.

If you prepare this dish we highly recommend using fresh dulse to get that savory crunch. Fresh live dulse is grown at Monterey Bay Seaweeds.

The origin of the word Kelp, and how it helped win the first world war

The term “kelp” originated in Europe and was used to describe the ash of burnt seaweeds. During the 16th century seaweeds were harvested and burnt for sodium compounds (soda), iodine, and potassium compounds (potash). Seaweed potash and soda were used to make glass, soaps, fertilizers, and eventually gunpowder. The seaweeds that contained the most soda and potash were said to be the brown seaweeds, thus Laminariales became commonly known as “kelps.”

Germany, in the late 1800s, was the largest producer of mineral potash in the world. After the start of the first world war, Germany put an embargo on potash, cutting off the largest consumer of potash, the Americans.

In response, the Americans industrialized kelp harvesting in southern California to produce potash for gunpowder.

The kelp harvesting industry has since declined as other sources of compounds were found. However, it was this industrial wartime in the early 1900s that led to intense kelp forest research which has continued to this day.

 Hercules Powder Company (South Bay Historical Society)

Hercules Powder Company (South Bay Historical Society)

A seaweed thanksgiving part 1: mashed potatoes

With thanksgiving rapidly approaching, we thought we should start looking into some traditional dishes that incorporate seaweeds. This is the first post in our segment, “A seaweed thanksgiving.” Enjoy!

Traditionally Americans celebrate the 4th Thursday in November as thanksgiving. The celebration is a representation of the first thanksgiving celebrated by the pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in October 1621. They were joined by the Native Americans who had helped the pilgrims forage in an unfamiliar land. Later thanksgiving was declared a federal holiday in 1863 by president Abraham Lincoln, during the American Civil War.

Unfortunately, the pilgrims and Natives have a complicated history, to say the least, that has soured many peoples perception of the holiday. We will only be focused on the holiday as a time to spend with friends and family, and more specifically, sharing food.


mashed potatoes.

The fist dish is a cornerstone of the American thanksgiving feast: mashed potatoes.

This recipe by Michael Voltaggio is a twist on the classic dish using dry Kombu

Kombu is a common name from Japan for edible kelp, typically from Laminariaceae. Kombu is commonly available in stores, however, we always encourage exploration into using fresh seaweeds. If you know your collection requirements in your area, then go forage for some of your favorite kelp (remember none are harmful). If you are unaware of your local restrictions, you can always order other fresh seaweeds from Monterey Bay Seaweeds.


Seaweed extracts used to make clothing

This is just too cool! We have reported before how seaweed extracts can be used for various plastic materials, but now the ADAY company has a new clothing line: the planet bae collection. The collection has various clothing items that are made from seaweed extracts. We looked into them a little and found out that their shirts are around 25% seaweed!

This is really exciting news for a number of reasons. The first being that this is the first reusable item made from seaweed that we have seen hit the markets. The focus thus far has been on replacing single use plastics. The second reason for excitement is the clothing industry is known to be extremely harmful to the environment, which has created an outcry for more sustainable clothing products.

Stressed out? Take a relaxing seaweed bath.

When people get overworked or stressed out, there is hardly a better cure than a spa day. In the USA we are all too familiar with the famous mud-bath treatment, but have you heard about seaweed baths?

In Ireland, seaweed baths have been around for hundreds of years. The monks during the 12th century realized that heating water and seaweed released their “healing” alginates. How exactly these monks determined healing properties of seaweed sugars is unclear. The current literature however, does show alginates are excellent for wound healing. Alginate dressings in the dry form absorb wound fluid to re-gel, and the gels then can supply water to a dry wound, maintaining a physiologically moist microenvironment and minimizing bacterial infection at the wound site.

You can still go to Ireland spa retreats and enjoy various seaweed baths. One traveler describes their experience at Voya Seaweed Baths.

Want to try a seaweed bath? You’re in luck! There are a number of spas offering the seaweed treatment (google away). If you can’t shell out the cash for a spa day, we found a company that sells seaweed bath products.

offshore vs. land-based seaweed farms, and why we went land.

Monterey Bay Seaweeds was the first land-based seaweed farm in California, possibly the entire United States, but why did we chose a land-based operation for growing seaweed?

As many of our readers will know, Dr. Graham is a tenured professor at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. The lab has it’s own seawater intake system that it also shares with their neighbor, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). By entering an equity partnership with the marine lab and San Jose State University, Monterey Bay Seaweeds was able to utilize the existing infrastructure for their aquaria and get to work.

Offshore and land-based seaweed farms differ almost in parallel to large agriculture farms and greenhouses. Offshore seaweed farms are less space limited, and are capable of producing vast quantities. Typically kelps, or other common species, are seeded on long lines and hung in the ocean until the harvest season. Once harvested, the product is typically dried and stored until sale. The seaweed is typically bought in bulk for various uses. Due to seasonal variability, offshore farms are difficult to operate year round. Nutrient availability or fluctuating temperatures can also hinder production. A few bad seasons and your farm might go under.

On the other hand, land-based seaweed farms don’t mass produce due to the high price of space. They can however, produce year round. Land-based farms can also grow species that are harder or impossible to grow on lines. Just like a common greenhouse, everything can be controlled. If the seawater intake starts pulling in water that is nutrient poor or too hot/ cold, the entire system could be switched to artificial seawater. It’s this control that would be critical if climate change continues at the current rate. If the oceans become more acidic or too hot, land-based aquaculture might be the only option.

The added benefit to producing year round, is that the product can be harvested at any time. We can sell our seaweed fresh, any day. Fresh seaweeds give the chefs more options on how to use the product. They can more freely play with the taste, texture, and shape when constructing a dish. If they desire, they can always dry seaweed, but when you re-hydrate it, it’s never the same as it was.

Closing the nutrient loop with seaweed farming.

As discussed in the last post, agriculture runoff is a huge problem. Nutrients are running off the land and into our oceans.Today in a recent article from Scientific America, the idea was batted around to take up ocean nutrients with kelp then turn it into fertilizers. These fertilizers could then be used again on land to replenish the nutrients lost. Not only would this help close the nutrient loop, but also take excess carbon out of the oceans.

This is just another example how seaweeds can help reverse negative anthropogenic impacts to our oceans.

Seaweeds can facilitate symbiotic microbes in agriculture

Modern agriculture is a marvel of the 21st century. Crop production has surpassed our expectations, many times over, in the last 100 years. However, this production has come with a cost. What is now being called our nitrogen addiction, refers to the amount of fertilizers used on farmland. The traditional soaking of soil is inefficient and leads to runoff: where nutrients are leaked into other surrounding ecosystems or the waterways.

Doesn’t sound so bad, what the problem with extra nutrients in the water? Well, the added nutrients cause boom bust cycles of other plants and algae that can tip the balance of an ecosystem. Currently there are numerous microalgae blooms off the coast of the USA, all are said to be a factor of agriculture runoff. This has caused an outcry for more responsible farming practices in reducing their nutrient loading.

One group in the UK has started using algae extracts and microbes to help crop efficiency. They claim that the seaweed extract facilitates microbes that help crops take up more water and nutrients, and therefore can reduce the amount of farm input by 20%. By reducing the amount of water and fertilizer used, the runoff will be far less than without the seaweed’s help. This could end up being a key strategy for responsible farming practices.

How do farmers get giant pumpkins? With a little help from seaweed.

Tomorrow is Halloween! Tradition dictates that you go to the pumpkin patch, select the pumpkin that calls to you, and carve it into a jack o'lantern. Every now and then, you will come across a giant pumpkin. You know the ones that we mean, they look like a half inflated beach ball that requires a forklift to move. The largest giant pumpkin ever recorded in the USA weighed an impressive 2,528 pounds.

How do they get so big? A farmer in Wisconsin shares his secret. At their farm they use seaweed. They claim that seaweed has extra minerals and nutrients that the pumpkin needs to grow fast.

Read more here

Moss Landing Marine Labs gets funding to study macroalgae in livestock feed

As previously discussed on this blog back on October 22nd, we mentioned researchers at UC Davis discovered that methane from cows can be dramatically reduced by including some red algae in their diets.

It was just announced Friday (Oct. 26th, 2018) that Moss Landing Marine Labs was awarded Seagrant funding to investigate and culture other methane reducing alga species. This funding was a part of the $6 million invested in ocean research projects by the Ocean Protection Council.

Dr. Graham of Monterey Bay Seaweeds will be joining the research team and sharing his expertise on land based algal culturing.

Robots are coming to save kelp forests from urchins

Kelp forests around the world have been in trouble. Some reports indicate that the global kelp biomass has been reduced by a 3rd in the last decade. Recently northern California, Australia, and Maine have been hit hard by a population explosion of purple urchins. These urchins graze on seaweeds and can clear entire kelp beds.

What’s causing these urchin booms is unclear, but most signs point to rising ocean temperature. With global temperatures set to rise, these urchin booms may become more frequent.

Some groups have taken it upon themselves to remove urchins from kelp beds, however this takes a lot of manpower and resources, such as, boats and SCUBA equipment. A new startup out of Stanford has designed robots that can go down to 120 feet underwater and collect urchins autonomously. This could be a vital resource in kelp forest defense.

Read more about their project here. (While this article is good at describing the project, we need to note the biological discrepancies. Kelp forests don’t provide 70% of the global oxygen. Kelp forests are important to fisheries, but there are a number of habitats that contribute to global fisheries and to say that kelp forests are the foundation of all fisheries is an overstatement)

India approves 1 billion USD in aquaculture infrastructure development

India has joined the growing list of countries that are supporting the growth of the aquaculture industry. It was announced today that the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved an amount of Rs7,522cr (roughly 1 billion USD) towards the creation of special fisheries and aquaculture infrastructure development fund (FIDF).

These funds can be allocated as loans to the aquaculture industry that have a maximum repayment period of 12 years, and will aid in achieving India’s goal of 15 million tons of aquaculture production by 2020.

Eating brown seaweed can aid in weight loss

Jamie Oliver is a well known chef in the UK who is a strong advocate for cooking with seaweeds. Recently an article in Magenta reported that Jamie owed his own weight loss to eating more seaweed.

The science of which goes back to a study published in the journal of Food Chemistry (2014). The study found that alginate, a sugar derived from brown seaweeds, inhibited pancreatic lipase by a maximum of 72.2% (±4.1) with synthetic substrate (DGGR) and 58.0% (±9.7) with natural substrate. Concluding that eating brown seaweeds could potentially reduce the uptake of dietary triacylglycerol aiding in weight management.

Weight loss is just one more reason why more chefs are starting to use seaweeds in their dishes. Jamie lists a few seaweed incorporated recipes on his website that are free to use.

Below is a video featuring Jamie on the Daily Mail explaining why he believes seaweeds are such a good superfood.

Seaweed and cow gas

Cows have gotten a lot of attention lately as they were found to be one of the largest producers of methane in the USA. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more powerful than CO2 in it’s ability to heat the atmosphere, and the entire population of cows contributes just as much as cars to climate change. Cows digest their food by fermentation in their gut. Fermentation leads to gasses, which are then mostly belched out of the cow’s mouth.

This has lead many animal nutritionists to investigate alternative feed ingredients that could mitigate the amount of methane produced by cows. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, found that methane emissions were reduced by 24 to 58 percent in cows that ate a type of red seaweed.

While this tech is very promising, the bottleneck is currently the lack of red algae production. Land based aquaculture is costly, while offshore aquaculture comes with more regulatory hurdles. To have seaweed integrated into feeds, massive large scale aquafarming needs to become a reality.

Concerned about plastic pollution? Seaweed can help.

Plastics are everywhere. If you take a minute to look around your house, it’s really quite astonishing how much of it we use. It’s no wonder why plastics became so ubiquitous: it’s a cheap, flexible, and durable material. The issue is that these durable materials have been commonly used for single-use disposable items such as eating utensils, bags, containers, straws, packaging, bottles, the list goes on and on.

These single use items typically end up in the trash and can take up to 6 generations to breakdown. Plastics in the ocean have been accumulating at a far faster pace than their ability to break down. Some studies suggest at this rate there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. To make matters worse, as plastics break down they create smaller and smaller plastic particles, commonly referred to as micro-plastics. Micro-plastics have made headlines in the last decade as, to our horror, we have discovered that we consume them constantly. Micro-plastics have been found in seafood, beer, salt, chicken, and water.

In response some cities have banned some plastic items, most notably bags and straws. However, this is a drop in the bucket and banning plastics entirely would be a political and economical nightmare. Luckily, seaweed is here to the rescue. A few clever groups have found ways to replace single use plastics by using seaweed extracts. So far we have seen seaweed replace packaging, straws, bottles, and even surf boards. These items are not only biodegradable, but generated from a sustainable resource. Look for more and more of these items to pop up in the near future.

It's national seafood month. Let's not forget seaweed.

It’s national seafood month!

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When most people think of seafood the mental image of fish, lobster, and crab jump into their heads.

While fish are the number one ranking seafood by tons/year, this mental image is missing the second largest seafood market on the planet: seaweed. Did you know that global seaweed cultivation is more than twice the amount of crustaceans farmed and captured by weight? (FAO 2016). Over 31 million tons of seaweed is produced annually. Red seaweeds make up most of the global production (18.4 million tons), followed by brown seaweeds (10.5 million tons), and the rest is green seaweeds.

Red seaweeds are cultivated at the highest rates due to some industrial extracts (see carrageenan post) and valued flavor. We are all familiar with the taste of some red algae; nori is a commonly used red seaweed in the making of sushi rolls.

So next time you hear the word seafood, don’t forget the second largest seafood group: seaweeds.

What the heck is seaweed anyway?

Sometimes we take our phycological education for granted and forget that algal terminology can be a bit confusing. Let’s review some basic concepts to ensure that we are all on the same page when thinking about seaweed.

Alga = singular

Algae = plural

Algaes = not a real word

Microalgae = single cell algae species

Macroalgae = multi-cellular algae species = seaweed

3 branches of algae = red (Rhodophyta), green (Chlorophyta), brown (Ochrophyta)

Kelp = a branch of brown seaweeds (Laminariales)

Plant = Photosynthetic thing on land

A very brief overview of the evolution of photosynthetic organisms.

In the beginning there was a bacterium that learned a neat trick. This bacterium contained pigments that allowed it to capture sunlight and convert it into energy via photosynthesis. The bacterium was engulfed and incorporated by another single celled organism (a eukaryote), this event is called primary endosymbiosis. Its a partnership between the two cells (bacterium and eukaryote) similar to the photosynthetic algae that like inside corals. Through this process red, and then later green, algae came into existence. After this primary endosymbiotic union, secondary and even tertiary endosymbioses occurred - algal cells themselves getting engulfed and incorporated to give rise to other algal groups including macroalgae, browns, and terrestrial plants. If you want to dive into the specifics of how scientists discovered this, here is a good paper outlining how the genetic code of algae lead to the discovery.

pic.plastid.evol.scheme.jpg

It may seem a little complicated, and in fact it is, its very complicated. But it is super cool and for this reason we don’t like algae being called plants; it’s like calling “fish” … “humans.” On a more humorous note, we do encourage people to call plants, “land-adapted algae”. Again, check out algaebase.org to review all of this and see where your favorite seaweed fits in.

Could you survive by only eating seaweed?

If you look at the nutrient label on the packaging of any food item, you would see the groups: calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, sodium, and occasionally other items such as minerals. We are all familiar with calories being the amount of energy within the food. “Calorie counting” is a common practice for people looking to watch their weight, as consuming calories faster than you can metabolize them can lead to weight gain. However, without calories your body wouldn’t have energy to survive.

Calories in your diet come from fat, proteins, organic acids, and especially carbohydrates. Carbohydrate is an umbrella term for all types of sugar, starch, cellulose, and even dietary fiber. The sugars in most algae though, are not digestible by most humans. The sugars in most algae are known to be β(1→4) linkages in glucan polysaccharides. Most of the human population lacks the ability to digest these types of sugars as we are adapted to eat alpha(1→4) linkages in glucan polysaccharides (i.e. sucrose), and therefore, we don’t get the energy associated with these calories from most seaweed sugars.

There is one human population in Japan, however, that can digest these sugars. Apparently these Japanese have become hosts to common gut bacterium (Bacteroides plebeius) that exhibits polysaccharide-degrading enzymes. This is likely due to many generations of seaweed consumption and adaptation.

Just for fun, let’s see how much seaweed you would need to consume to get enough energy to survive. Assuming you are not Japanese, the only calories will be protein derived. The average person needs 2000 calories a day to maintain. You get about 4 calories per gram of protein. Now let’s use dulse as our reference seaweed. Dulse has 3.5% protein content. That means you would need to eat at least 31.49 pounds of dulse to satisfy your caloric needs. Now this is only in reference to calories, almost no single food item has all the nutrients the body needs for survival, so please don’t try this diet at home.

Replace your daily fish oil supplement with algae.

When it comes to dietary supplements, few are as vetted as fish oil. Most claims made on the side of a dietary supplement bottle are marked with an (*) or some other indicator related the lack of evidence supporting said claim.

Fish oils on the other hand have been clinically tested and found effective in reducing arthritis, blood pressure, and heat disease. Most studies point to the long-chain fatty acids DHA and EPA (Docosahexaenoic acid Eicosapentaenoic acid) as being responsible for the added health benefits.

Unfortunately, fish oils are not a sustainable resource. Fish oils are made from the processing of wild caught forage fish, like anchovy and herring. These wild populations have been under growing pressure by a number of industries such as animal feed, nutraceuticals, and cosmetics. The wild catch of forage fish hasn’t increased in the last two decades while the human population is growing faster than ever. Many scientists believe the forage fish populations will not support the human population by 2030.

Fortunately, we know where fish get their oils from: algae. There are plenty of micro and macroalgae that contain high amounts of DHA and EPA. A group called FIN (Feed Innovation Network) has compiled a list of algae with their fatty acid content. If you wish to increase your EPA and DHA intake in a safe and sustainable way, the best thing you can do is eat more algae.