Enjoy Food With Kelp There are kelp burgers, snacks such as kelp popcorn, jerky and pickles, and condiments such as fermented kelp, salsa, hot sauce, and a favorite seasoning of ours – furikake – a sesame and seaweed sprinkle for rice, soups, salads and more. An online culinary blog dedicated to cooking with kelp. Exploring the nutritional value and health benefits of this superfood while sharing delicious, healthy recipes anyone can try.
Food With Kelp
The most common variety of kelp found in supermarkets is sugar kelp, which you’ll find dried as kombu. (Nori, dulse, wakame, and hijiki are other varieties of seaweed available, but are not the same species as kelp).
While most seaweed available in supermarkets is sold in dried form and imported from Asia, Atlantic Sea Farms has opened up the market for domestically grown fresh kelp and kelp products at scale. Its kelp is sustainably rope-grown in the cool, clean waters of Maine, then blanched, cooled, and frozen to maintain a long shelf life without any need for rehydrating. It’s available as ready-cut kelp or pureed fresh kelp cubes in addition to a line of fermented products. According to Warner, “blanching the kelp also removes the deep fishy flavor so it tastes like the freshness of the ocean without the fishiness that is less desirable.” Blanching also brings out the bright green color without any additives (green chlorophyll is the only color pigment that remains after heating), helps maintain its nutrients, and preserves the clean, crisp, ocean flavor of fresh kelp that changes when dried. The company farms two varieties both native to the Gulf of Maine: Sugar kelp and ribbon-like skinny kelp. Both are harvested young to maintain their tender texture.
Kelp is being incorporated in a variety of retail products found in stores or available online, including gut-friendly fermented seaweed salads like Atlantic Sea Farms Sea-Chi, Barnacle Foods Kelp Pickles, and Salsa Verde. You can also find dried kelp in sheets, flakes, or granules for sprinkling at many specialty grocery stores and also in novel ways such as noodles.
Tips for Buying Kelp
- Seaweed can act like a sponge, taking up heavy metals that may be in the environment, so look for sources from clean waters. Many companies will regularly test their products for heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides, petroleum residues, and radioactivity, and will make this claim on the website or product label. Some brands may also go through organic certification if available, another good indicator the product is clean and safe.
- Look for seaweed free of additives, such as artificial coloring or flavoring.
- Think about your cooking application to determine which type and form is the best fit.
- Dried kelp will expand when rehydrated and has a more concentrated flavor than fresh, so keep this in mind when cooking with kelp.
Health Benefits of Kelp
Kelp is an incredibly nutrient-dense food, meaning it’s low in calories but packed with beneficial nutrients. At only 25 calories per 2-ounce serving of fresh raw kelp, it contains nearly 20 different measurable vitamins and minerals including iron, potassium, calcium, vitamin A, Vitamin B12, magnesium, and iodine in addition to soluble fiber, protein-building amino acids, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Specific amounts of these micronutrients will vary among species, growing habitats, harvest age, and processing, but all seaweed will be an excellent source of iodine and is considered one of the highest food sources of this essential mineral. And it doesn’t take much to reap the benefits: Just 2 tablespoons of dried sugar kelp (known as kombu) can provide nearly 900 percent of your daily requirements for iodine, and a 2-ounce serving of blanched fresh baby kelp provides 745 percent of the daily value. Iodine content is generally highest in freshly cut young seaweed and nearly any amount consumed will easily exceed the recommended daily value.
Why is iodine such an important mineral? Because your body does not produce it, so it must be consumed through food. Also, it’s estimated that over 2 billion individuals around the globe have insufficient iodine intake, and iodine intake in industrialized countries has fallen in recent years (including in the U.S.) Iodine is used by the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones which impact growth and brain development, so adequate intake is especially important during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood. Iodine intake is also a nutrient of concern for those following entirely plant based diets, since it’s often found in dairy and seafood. Furthermore, with the rise in popularity of sea salt and kosher salt in cooking, there is a lower consumption of iodized salt, increasing the need to get iodine from other sources.
Kelp is also a good source of (non-dairy) calcium, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are other nutrients of concern in plant-based diets. Finally, on top of essential vitamins and minerals, kelp contains other health-promoting anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants and is being studied, along with other varieties of seaweed, for its effects on blood sugar regulation, heart disease, and gut health, among other chronic diseases.
Environmental Benefits of Kelp
Not only is kelp incredibly nutritious for the body, it is recognized as a beneficial sea crop for the environment. First, kelp does not require any input to grow—no fresh water, no arable land, no fertilizers, and no pesticides—and is very fast growing. Second, research shows that kelp forests can play a huge role in removing carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere and mitigating some of the negative effects that global warming has on our oceans. In fact, kelp forests have the potential to sequester up to 20 times more carbon per acre than land forests.
This is so important because too much of the carbon and nitrogen emitted into the air (as a result of industrialization and air pollution) gets dissolved into the ocean, causing the ocean to become more acidic, and in turn, the water less habitable for ocean plants and marine animals. The beauty of kelp is that it takes in an astounding amount of both carbon and nitrogen as it grows, removing both from the surrounding seawater, making the ocean less acidic in a “halo” effect around it. As one way to quantify this, researchers have tested mussel shells at various distances inside and outside of a kelp farm and found that the mussels grown within the kelp farm had significantly stronger shells and larger mussel meat mass as compared to those outside the farm, indicating they thrived better underneath the halo of the farm. And if kelp is not harvested and remains in the ocean, it does have the potential to sequester carbon permanently, or at least for centuries. Maine-based company Running Tide is actually piloting a project to sink kelp crops in the deep sea as an attempt to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Although not kelp, another type of seaweed is also being studied for its impact on reducing methane output from cows. Early research indicates that replacing less than 0.5 percent of a cow’s feed with a specific variety of red seaweed known as Asparagopsis reduces their methane production by up to 98 percent. This finding has the potential to make a significant impact on reducing the harmful greenhouse gas emissions associated with cattle that contribute to global warming. Why not feed this to all cattle worldwide? There is currently no large-scale commercial production in place to provide a supply to meet the demand but organizations such as Greener Grazing are trying to change this.
While much of this research is still ongoing and relatively nascent, it is clear that kelp is a win-win for the environment and has the potential for tremendous benefits to our climate.
Kelp Offers Community Benefits, Too
In addition to environmental benefits, kelp has tremendous potential to benefit local economies and fishing communities. Atlantic Sea Farms, founded in 2009 as Ocean Approved, works with Maine fishermen to diversify their incomes in the face of climate change.
According to the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Gulf of Maine happens to be warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, and fishermen have been directly impacted due to its negative effects on valuable commercial species such as lobster, shrimp, clams, oysters, and groundfish. Warming waters are disruptive for the entire marine ecosystem—it causes some seafood to be more susceptible to disease, negatively affects their food supply, impacts breeding cycles, and increases the prevalence of predatory species—all of which affect the stock levels of many commercial fish species. Regulations put in place to help conserve some of these species means that fishermen can no longer rely on these species for their businesses. For example, Maine lobstermen long relied on shrimp during their off season as an alternative source of income, yet Maine shrimp fisheries have been closed since 2014 to help rebuild stock levels.
Global warming also causes fish and shellfish species to start migrating to colder deeper waters farther out from shore, meaning boats have to travel further to get a decent catch. This means more money is spent on gas (resulting in lower profit margins), which again takes away from a fisherman’s income. Briana Warner, CEO of Atlantic Sea Farms, explains that “kelp farming gives fishermen another source of income during the off-season that can utilize their existing infrastructure” while also benefiting the environment and bringing a nutritious product to market for consumers. “Kelp is hope for our coast,” she adds. Furthermore, nurturing the growth and expansion of kelp farms in the U.S. increases the domestic supply of kelp, as over 98 percent of the edible seaweed on the market is grown in Asia.
What is kelp?
Sea kelp is a large ocean-growing seaweed that grows naturally in underwater forests. Recently, companies have started to farm and harvest kelp on the east coast of the US as well as in Europe.
“Many people are used to eating a seaweed salad from Asia, but this is local product (either in the Northeast—Maine, or in the Northwest [British Columbia to Northern California]) that can be added to a number of foods,” says Angel Planells, MS, RDN, Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.
What are the health benefits of kelp?
“Kelp is the new ‘it’ food,” begins Planells. “It is a nutritional powerhouse rich in many vitamins (A, B [especially B12], C, D, E, and K) and minerals (potassium, calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, zinc, copper, chromium, selenium and more),” she adds.
The sea vegetable earns its title as a superfood not just because it’s packed with vitamins and minerals, but also because it is rich in healthy fats and fiber.
“[Sea kelp] also may contain, depending on the environment it’s grown in, some plant-based omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils, but not of the fish-derived variety),” says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, Miami-based registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. “And since it is literally a grass, it also has a lot of fiber.”
Kelp has been studied for its anti-inflammatory properties, its ability to help those with diabetes that struggle with blood glucose levels, and also may aid in weight loss as an obesity treatment.
Eating kelp is both sustainable and good for the planet.
Kelp has notably gotten attention for its environmentally-friendly farming, so when you eat it, you can feel confident knowing you’re eating for the planet.
“In addition, kelp benefits ocean and planet health by removing excessive phosphorous, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide,” says Planells.
“It also is natural and easy to farm requiring minimal input—it grows 4-6 inches per day, can grow up to 150 feet long in one growing season, and requires no farmland, fresh water, or fertilizer,” Planells adds.
What does kelp taste like?
“Kelp is ‘wet’ and rather gelatinous; it’s almost as if grass had been pumped full of water and crossed with Jell-O—it’s definitely an acquired taste and texture,” says Auslander Moreno.
Since it’s grown in the ocean, you can expect kelp to be on the salty side.
“Kelp can taste very salty (like the ocean), or taste like a fresh oyster. It also can have a bit of an umami taste (natural Monosodium glutamate), which is a very savory taste,” says Planells.
How should you cook kelp?
If you like Japanese food, there’s a good chance you’ve already eaten it.
“You can eat it as a wakame salad at Japanese restaurants, and they sometimes cure it with miso,” says Auslander Moreno.
But if you’re looking to try it at home, you can find kelp in a variety of different preparations:
- Dried Kelp: After kelp is harvested, it can be dried quickly into sheets to be used in broth or added to stir-fries and rice.
- Powdered Kelp: Kelp powder can be used as a dietary supplement for bad breath and increased energy; as a natural ingredient in hair treatment masks for hydration; or as a natural fertilizer for plants.
- Kelp Granules: You can use kelp as a low-sodium salt alternative.
- Cooked Kelp: You can purchase cooked kelp in many forms, such as in low-carb pasta alternative, kelp noodles.
- Kelp supplements: Often times, people use kelp supplements for its high source of iodine, a nutrient necessary for a healthy metabolism.
- Raw: In its most natural form, kelp is farmed straight from the sea.
“Trying out kelp for the first time, you may opt for flakes or a powder if the kelp frond is distressing to you. Go out and explore different recipes—add it to soups, to salads, smoothies, and candy,” says Planells.
“Some cooks like to add it to dried beans to enhance the flavor (and it makes the beans less gassy!) Kelp noodles are gluten-free, and very popular for those who are sensitive to gluten.”
You can also start to find it popping up in some of your favorite store-bought foods. Daily Harvest, a subscription service that delivers pre-portioned cups of frozen superfoods (smoothies, chilled soups, microwaveable harvest bowls, and more) directly to your door, adds kelp to their Brussels Sprouts + Lime Pad Thai Harvest Bowl.
And while kelp can be eaten on it’s down, it’s also used to make a common food thickening agent—sodium alginate—which manufacturers use to thicken ice creams and salad dressings.
If you’re looking to dive into the kelp trend, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Kelp is high in iodine. “One thing to be mindful of with kelp consumption is the amount of iodine it contains. Iodine recommendations are based on your age and gender—most adults need 150 micrograms per day. According to the National Institute of Health, a single sheet may contain 16 micrograms to 2,984 micrograms. [That] is either 11% or 1,989% of the recommended daily allowance,” says Planells. “So be mindful of your kelp consumption if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have any kidney or thyroid issues.”
- Make sure to buy natural when purchasing kelp. “Make sure you are getting wakame that hasn’t been dyed synthetically! Nobody wants extra chemicals,” says Auslander Moreno.
- Be mindful of sodium. If you are watching your sodium intake, you may want to skip kelp. “It is extremely salty,” says Auslander Moreno.
However, if you’re looking to add a flavorful vegetable to your diet that is packed with vitamins and minerals, you should give kelp a chance.
“The truth of the matter is that kelp can be a great food to try and introduce in a variety of ways,” says Planells. “Check out some recipes and give it a try. Indulge, but don’t over-do it.”
Everything an expert wants you to know about sea kelp
Weight loss? Anti-ageing powers? What’s the evidence on sea kelp (and should you be taking it)?
by JENNIFER SAVIN
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If we had to put a wager on it, we’d guess most people would say nori (read: sushi!) is their favourite edible seaweed, but what about kelp? A type of seaweed that grows in shallow and nutrient-rich waters around the world, it’s recently grown in popularity as an abundance of supplements and sea kelp products have made their way onto the wellness market.
Prior to that though, sea kelp has been eaten and used medicinally for hundreds of years in various forms, with some by-products even commonly appear in ice cream, salad dressings and chocolate milk. The more you know, eh?
But back to business: is the hype around sea kelp legitimate – or is it a wellness trend to swerve? Registered nutritionist, VJ Hamilton, also known as The Autoimmunity Nutritionist, is here to give us the lowdown.
“Kelp, prized for its potent antioxidant properties, which fight against disease-causing free radicals has gained increased attention in the health sphere over the last decade due to its vitamin and mineral density,” she says. “It contains ten times the amount of minerals as a plant grown in soil, and there is now an abundance of kelp supplements on the market.”
These are some of the health benefits and the pitfalls to watch out for when adding more kelp to your diet:
The benefits of sea kelp
Nutrients: Sea kelp is a natural source of vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D and E, as well as minerals including zinc, iodine, magnesium, iron, potassium, copper and calcium. In fact it contains the highest natural concentration of calcium of any food – ten times more than milk.
Reduces inflammation: “Fucoidan- found in kelp – may help to lower inflammation in the brain and can help those with neurodegeneration, although further research is required to determine its full benefits,” says Hamilton. “Kelp may also help protect brain cells against toxicity.”
Skin-care benefits: Due to kelps rich antioxidant content, kelp is now being used in many natural skincare products, notes Hamilton. “Human skin is often overexposed to the sun and pollution, and as a result, there is a build-up of free radicals at the surface of the skin which kelp has the potential to neutralise,” she says. “Kelp also has anti-bacterial, anti-ageing and anti-acne properties so may help those with various skin conditions.”
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Weight loss: Iodine is a trace mineral vital for the operation of the thyroid gland which plays an important part in body development and metabolism. It combines with tyrosine – an amino acid – to create T3 and T4, thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism and other physiological functions throughout the body. As sea kelp is the richest natural source of iodine it can help to regulate metabolism and in turn affect weight loss and gain.
Additionally, a University of Newcastle study concluded that alginates – fibres within sea kelp – ‘significantly reduce fat digestion’ and absorption, much more so than most consumer slimming treatments. However, the findings are only preliminary. “Alginate found in kelp may also stop the absorption of fat in the digestive system, which leads to fewer calories being absorbed following a meal,” says Hamilton. “But these findings are preliminary so further research is needed to understand the long term effect.”
She notes that other studies have shown that due to kelp’s rich polyphenol content, it may also help stabilise blood sugar for those with blood sugar regulation issues.
A good source of calcium: “Often on a plant-based diet and/or dairy-free diet, getting optimal amounts of calcium in your diet is challenging,” says Hamilton. “However, kelp is an excellent source of calcium-containing 168 mg per 100 g serving.” Calcium is key to build and maintain strong bones and supports the proper function of your muscles, heart and nervous system, she adds.
Can sea kelp be good for hair?
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting taking sea kelp supplements can boost hair growth. Whether or not it actually boosts growth, it contains nutrients involved in hair health and strength, so it may help reduce split ends and breakages.
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The risks associated with sea kelp
Dosage: As sea kelp contains so many minerals and nutrients in such high quantities it may pose health problems if consumed in an incorrect dosage or by those with particular known health issues. “In the UK, the iodine content found in kelp was incorrectly labelled on kelp products, with 26 products having iodine content above the recommended daily allowance,” says Hamilton.
Iodine: Sea kelp is rich in iodine as it rapidly absorbs the high iodine content of the sea, and you might find anecdotal advice to take it for iodine deficiency – however, in the developed world though this condition is rare, and even if you are a sufferer, it’s unlikely iodine supplements would be the recommended course of action. “In fact, you’ll probably already get between 160mcg and 600mcg of iodine from salt, and taking excess iodine can cause many health problems including hyperthyroidism, Grave’s disease and thyroid cancers,” cautions Hamilton.
She adds that different forms of kelp can vary greatly in iodine content too; another reason to be wary. “For example, the iodine content of different products containing bladderwrack (or seawrack) – a type of kelp – may differ greatly.”
Heavy metals: Sea kelp grown in polluted waters may well absorb toxic heavy metals which if ingested can cause major health problems. The potential for this means it isn’t recommended to be taken if pregnant or breastfeeding, or by children or people with health issues, especially liver or kidney problems. It should be possible however to make sure a particular supplement comes from kelp grown in clean waters.
Unpredictability: There are a large number of sea kelp supplements available containing a variety of different types of algae that all come under the name ‘kelp’, which may affect your body in different ways. For instance, bladderwrack can cause or worsen acne, and there is a single reported case of it causing kidney failure.
Thyroid dysfunction: Due to the high iodine content in kelp, it may disrupt thyroid function. “In one study, a 45-year-old woman with no history of thyroid disease experienced an upshot in her thyroid function after consuming a kelp rich diet,” says Hamilton. “Following this, she later developed hypothyroidism due to the damage to her thyroid. It is essential to take only the RDA of iodine rather than consuming kelp in high amounts.”
So, is it a yes or no for sea kelp?
As with any supplements, it’s definitely best to consult a doctor before taking any; especially if pregnant, breastfeeding or suffering from any ailments. “If you have a thyroid condition, you should not consume more than 158 – 175 micrograms of kelp per day,” says Hamilton. Those who have thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, hypothyroidism or Grave’s disease, should be cautious when considering kelp supplements, as in some cases, too much iodine can cause worsening symptoms, she adds.
Kelp supplements come in powered and supplement form, and the powdered form is better absorbed in your body, so she suggests that rather than supplementing with kelp, using kelp powder and sea salt to flavour foods. “You can also buy kelp flakes that you can sprinkle over soups, stir-fries and salads,” adds Hamilton. “If you would like to supplement with kelp, you should always check with your doctor first.”
Working with a registered nutritionist, such as Hamilton, can also help to identify whether you are iodine deficient, and if so, supplement accordingly.
The recommended daily amount of iodine for men and non-pregnant women is 150 micrograms, and any kelp supplements with more than 500 micrograms should be avoided. Fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products are excellent sources of iodine as well, so if you are vegan, adding kelp to your diet may help keep your iodine at optimal levels.
How do people use kelp?
Kelp is used to make many products: toothpastes, shampoos, salad dressings, puddings, cakes, dairy products, frozen foods, and even pharmaceuticals.
Algin, an emulsifying and bonding agent, is extracted from kelp and used in these products. Kelp is also used as food on mollusk farms. Between 100,000 and 170,000 wet tons of kelp are harvested from California waters each year.
Kelp forests are extremely biologically productive habitats for a huge range of sea creatures including fish, urchins, sea otters, sea lions, and even some whales. Because of this, kelp forests are critical for fishing and recreation industries.
Unfortunately, overfishing disrupts the balance of kelp forests by removing predators and allowing plant-eating populations to explode and overeat the kelp, destroying the forests. Pollution, such as sediment runoff and industrial waste, also contributes to the destruction of kelp forests.
Today, many kelp forests are located in marine protected areas and are studied by NOAA scientists. Kelp forests are monitored for kelp size and distribution, physical oceanic conditions, and associated life. The more that we discover about these amazing habitats, the better they can be preserved and strengthened.