Seaweed has been part of the human food supply since ancient times, providing a rich source of nutrients from the Mediterranean to Asia. In modern times, the largest consumers of seaweed are China, Japan, and Korea, where seaweed is included at nearly every meal.
Beyond flavor, seaweed is packed with vitamins (including vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K), minerals (iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and ultra-trace minerals), trace elements, omega oils, phytochemicals, antioxidants, fiber, and protein. In fact, seaweed is the best natural source of iodine (needed for thyroid function, metabolic balance, bone health, and brain health), with some varieties providing as much as 20 times the daily value in a single gram. Iodine is especially critical during pregnancy, playing a major role in embryonic and newborn development.
Seaweed also contains other bioactive compounds, such as beta-glucans, fucoidans, and other functional polysaccharides that can help mediate cholesterol and blood sugar as well as reduce cancer risk. Adding certain seaweeds to foods with high glycemic value known to reduce it due to the high fiber content found in seaweed and other active chemicals that help decrease sugar absorption after eating.
In the West, seaweed is finally making rapid gains in popularity due to two big influences: The increasingly global, food culture that has brought Asian health-oriented culinary traditions to all corners of America and Europe, and the use of seaweed as an ingredient in many meat and seafood replacement products.
Seaweed is rich in alginate and agar both natural gums that are key players in producing the meatlike bite and flavor in meat analogs. Seaweed also is used to provide the key flavor component of seafood analogs.
High and balanced protein levels together with all the above benefits makes seaweed a key player in future development of the health food industry. Seaweed has recently branched out into snack crackers and similar products, where it has enjoyed rapid acceptance and success among American consumers.
Seaweed adds a huge bonus to its food value by being highly sustainable and relatively inexpensive. It grows fast, requiring nothing for its nourishment other than what it absorbs from the water and the sunlight that filters in from above the surface, and it can be readily harvested. With such an impressive and far-reaching array of benefits, seaweed and seaweed ingredients have more potential than nearly any other botanical.