Currently the global seaweed industry is estimated to be worth over $6 billion, of which $5 billion is attributed to human consumption. Six million tonnes of wet seaweed is harvested worldwide per annum.
The major consumers of seaweed as an ingredient are the Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Indian Ocean markets, however with globalisation and the increase in health conscious consumers, small to medium enterprises in countries such as Ireland, Spain and France have thrown themselves into the seaweed industry- and are thriving.
As more and more research goes into seaweed as a food ingredient the health benefits seem to know no bounds.
Seaweed may soon be an ingredient in functional foods, for example to make bread higher in fibre. Scientists at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne have researched alginate, a substance in brown seaweed, and found that it can strengthen gut mucus, slow down and make food release its energy slower.
Seaweed is high in nutrients yet low in calories. The simple addition of dried seaweed to a dish will at the most add 30 calories. However the minerals and nutrients found in seaweed such as calcium, folate, magnesium and iodine add huge health benefits and are not easily found in your typically fruit and vegetables.
Along with being health conscious, many consumers aim to be a friend to the environment. Many are moving towards natural, organically grown foods. The fact that seaweed is a natural ingredient grown in a clean environment is of huge interest to all demographics.
Many key food ingredient manufacturers are incorporating seaweed into their products for texture, flavour and health benefits.
Cargill has recently announced the Satiagel ABN 500 range of sustainable carrageenan blends mainly sourced from farmed seaweed.
Salt of the Earth is to launch Umamix, its new sodium reduction ingredient for hamburgers and processed meat, at Fi Europe. The savoury profile of Umamix is derived from three extracts: tomato, shiitake mushroom and kombu seaweed and reduces sodium by 45%.
Experts say that snacks will bring seaweed into the mainstream food ingredient market, sales of seaweed snacks in the US are already overtaking those of kale. The functionality, health benefits and natural background are driving demand for seaweed based products.
By Alex Sheehan, Food and Drink Business Europe