In many Asian countries seaweed has been a basic part of the daily diet for centuries. In later years this ingredient has become more common also in the Nordic kitchen, and can now often be found on the menus of high-end restaurants in many capitals.
Sara Nässén, WGI Advisory Member Sweden.
Use of seaweed in the world
For centuries the use of seaweed in food has been widespread in countries such as China, Japan and Korea. Most western people have perhaps come to contact with this vegetable of the sea as an accompaniment to sushi, however, during recent years there has been a strong movement in countries such as France to introduce seaweed into the European cuisine, with some success. Even though the use of seaweed in the Nordic cuisine might be considered a novelty, research claims that this is not the case. There is a documented historical tradition for the use of this aliment in Nordic countries such as Iceland and Greenland. Today, with an increased interest from Nordic chefs to use local raw products, seaweed together with some other forgotten foodstuffs are seeing a revival. Mainly two types are coming back: the red seaweed dulse (Palmaria palmata) and the brown seaweed sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima). These are both largely diffused species in the Nordic seas, growing well in the cold and clean Nordic waters, offering a sustainable and healthy addition to the Nordic cuisine.
Seaweed helped developing the human brain
Most likely seaweed has been consumed ever since human beings started living close to the water. In a study from 2017 published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers argue that seaweed consumption may have played a fundamental role in the development of the human brain and nervous system. Without some nutrients such as zinc and magnesium, all to be found in great amounts in these underwater plants, the human brain cannot function. But in many countries, especially in Western cultures, the habit of consuming seaweed was forgotten when agriculture took over. With the global challenges of food security that the world today is confronting, people are looking into new possibilities. The big challenge is to create sustainable food production for the future in a world facing a population of 9, 1 billion people in 2050. To be able to feed the world’s population we need to create new food systems and drastically reduce the CO2 outlet. Seaweed is a photosynthetic organism using sunlight to convert CO2 and water into oxygen. It is easy and quick to grow, reduces greenhouse gases and has a low environmental impact. Plus, if harvested in a correct way, the regrowth is quick. In many Nordic countries, there is a great access to clean ocean water with a wide range of seaweed types, most of them edible. A fantastic local raw product, a forest undersea that has not been used to its fullest.
The superfood of the ocean - and more
Seaweed from the cold waters of the North is a unique product, which is both tasty and nutritious.G. Mouritsen, author of Seaweeds: Edible, Available & Sustainable, expresses it like this: “Seaweed has a unique potential for human consumption being full of minerals, vitamins and other useful nutrients, which make seaweed a healthy and good supplement to the Nordic Kitchen”. Seaweed contains more protein than meat, more iron than spinach and a high level of iodine and other important minerals. Most people know that fish and seafood is nutritious because it contains omega 3 and other fatty acids, but one reason why fish is healthy is because fish eat seaweed. In addition to these health benefits, seaweed is also rich of umami flavours giving an interesting touch to food, something which Nordic gourmet chefs are now discovering. These precious plants can also be used for makeup products, as a thickener and to clean water from poisonous metals. Some examples of interesting companies working with seaweed in the Nordic countries are The Northern Company, an award winning Norwegian company that harvests and sells seaweed from the North Atlantic Ocean; the Danish company Nordisk tang producing gourmet products made of seaweed; Catxalot, a small scale company on the West Coast of Sweden, working with sustainable seaweed picking and offering workshops, classes, lectures, walks and excursions; Svensk tang which uses seaweed for skin care products, and the Swedish company Agfo which does interdisciplinary research on the seaweed farming in Sweden.This gem from the ocean has a wide range of possible uses, and probably the trend in the Nordic cuisine only marks the beginning.