Kelp

Seaweed common names: Kombu

There are many names for commonly consumed seaweeds. However, the species they refer to vary by region and culture. We will cover some of the most commonly used names for seaweeds, and review the differences between connotation and denotation. This series will review some of the most common common-names in use.

Previous posts include: Nori, Wakame, Laver


Kombu is a common name for seaweeds that typically belong to the group of brown seaweeds: Laminariaceae. Kombu is traditionally used for soup stocks, salads, and even fertilizer. Brown seaweeds are high in minerals and by adding them dishes one can improve the nutritional value of their food.

The word kombu is Japanese, but it’s thought to be borrowed from the Chinese. In old Japanese the word for seaweed was “me” as in “waka-me”. The predominant theory, is that kombu is derived from the Chinese word 昆布 kūnbù, which is traced back to the 3rd century in China. However, records from the 8th century are spotty at best in their descriptions of kūnbù, and it is impossible to know what species of seaweeds they were referring to.

Nowadays there are modifiers to separate the different species of kombu. (Borrowed from Wikipedia).

However, in other parts of the world the term kombu is used to describe other species of brown algae such as Saccharina or Laminaria. For example, the company Salt Point Seaweed calls Laminaria setchellii, California kombu.

Seaweed common names: Wakame

There are many names for commonly consumed seaweeds. However, the species they refer to vary by region and culture. We will cover some of the most commonly used names for seaweeds, and review the differences between connotation and denotation. This series will review some of the most common common-names in use.

Previous posts include: Nori


Wakame

Wakame is another edible seaweed popularized by the Japanese. You are probably familiar with wakame in the form of seaweed salad or as the little green strips within your miso soup.

ワカメ pronounced wakame, translates to seaweed, but in modern Japanese dictionaries directly refers to a specific species, Undaria pinnatifida.

Undaria pinnatifida is a brown seaweed (kelp) that grows substantially along rocky temperate coasts. The Latin root is Unda = wavy, and Pinna = pinnately cleft. Wakame in Japanese is derived from waka + me (若布, lit. young seaweed).

As early as the 8th century wakame was known to be harvested off the coast of Japan, China, and Korea. Undaria pinnatifida has since then spread to various regions of the world and has been added to the list of 100 most invasive species. Most recently Undaria pinnatifida crossed the pacific ocean again on debris carried from the 2011 tsunami.

Wakame is typically harvested, dried or blanched, and then sold. Upon purchase the wakame is then re-hydrated by soaking in water or soups.

While in the USA we are more familiar with the term wakame, other cultures call Undaria pinnatifida by other names: Qun dai cai (Chinese), Miyeouk (Korean), or sea mustard (English).

Today many foragers refer to other species as wakame. On the north coast some species of Alaria are being labeled as wakame as there is no native Undaria.

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)

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.

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

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)