Is seaweed nutritious? And 5 other facts about seaweed

A view of kelp from below, with sunlight shining down through the water

String. Toothpaste. Burgers. Fertilizer. Makeup. Printer ink. What do all of these things have in common?

They all can be made with seaweed! Commonly categorized into red, green, and brown species, seaweed is a broad term for plants and algae that live in the ocean. In the US, farming kelp, a brown macroalgae, is a rapidly growing industry. Farmed seaweed is good for people and good for nature!

Here are six facts that you might not know about seaweed.

1. Nutritious superfood

    Kelp is not only delicious, it’s also known as a superfood because it provides valuable nutrients for your body. It supports a healthy gut, and contains antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, including B12. It’s also pretty much the best source of iodine out there, which is especially important for pregnancy and thyroid issues. In eastern Asia, seaweed has been an integral part of people’s diets for hundreds of years!

    2. Cleans up the ocean

      Kelp cleans the ocean! The algae absorb excess nutrient runoff, including nitrogen and phosphorous, improving water quality. In Maine’s Boothbay Harbor, for example, researchers are experimenting with planting kelp just to filter wastewater.

      A seal swims in a kelp forest off the coast of Scotland. 

      Buoys mark a kelp farm off the coast of Maine. 

      3. Nurtures biodiversity

      Kelp farms and forests act as nurseries, providing safe habitats for marine wildlife such as small fish and young lobsters. This supports the biodiversity of the coastal ecosystem.

      Amazingly, kelp requires no pesticides or fertilizers to grow, avoiding pollution. And the fact that it doesn’t require land or freshwater means that shifting our diets to include more seaweed could take pressure off freshwater resources, which are in greater scarcity as the climate changes. It could also help avoid the conversion of land for agriculture, which is a major driver of deforestation.

      4. Can be made into a huge range of products

      Kelp isn’t just a delicious food: It could be a replacement for plastic-based twine and zip ties. It can also be made into natural fertilizer and animal feed. It’s even being explored as printer ink.

      “Our goal is to have kelp in every aisle of the store, not just as food,” said Casey Ballin, operations and sustainability director at Atlantic Sea Farms, a company that works with farmers to grow, process, and sell kelp-based products.

      5. Helps tackle the climate crisis

      When it comes to tackling the climate crisis, seaweed has superpowers. It can store greenhouse gases, reduce the carbon footprint of the global food system, help coastal communities adapt to climate impacts, and even buffer against ocean acidification. Read more about seaweed’s climate superpowers.

      6. It can swim!

      Did you know that in its early stage, sugar kelp has a tiny tail called a flagella? It uses the tail to swim to find a place to attach, settle, and grow.

      A kelp forest off the coast of Norway.

      A seaweed burger made from kelp farmed off the coast of Maine. 

      How you can help

      Speak out for seaweed farmers

      If you live in a coastal community where seaweed farming is present, your support for seaweed farmers can make a big difference.

      In Maine, for example, one of the largest challenges prospective farmers face is difficulty getting the permits they need to start a farm. Farmers have to go through a process that includes many hearings, which can often drag on for years. People unfamiliar with the industry sometimes oppose new farms, uncertain about changes to the waterfront (though the only visible parts of a kelp farm are buoys bobbing on the surface). The kelp industry is quiet, clean, and offers alternative income sources for fishers.

      Buy local seaweed products

      Seaweed is delicious and nutritious! You can find seaweed products in many grocery stores. To maximize your climate impact, check the label to make sure that the product is US-grown.

      Teach kids about seaweed

      Seaweed is cool! There are a number of children’s books and curriculum resources for inspiring the next generation of seaweed farmers.