Seaweed: The “New Old Vegetable”

Seaweed is a sea of potential. I’m sorry if that sounds cheesy. Let me start on a more sophisticated note.

Gracilaria and Agardhiella might become important parts of your grocery list in the near future, if you live on Martha’s Vineyard. They are local, native seaweed species, and were the topic of discussion and chewing at Thursday night’s Slow Food MV’s and Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group’s joint event.

The event, held at the Beach Plum Inn in Chilmark, and co-hosted by Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard and the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, was a culinary and educational exposé of the potential of seaweed.

Paul Dobbins of Ocean Approved in Maine– “the first commercial kelp farmers in the U.S”–spoke of his own experience cultivating and wild harvesting seaweed, and how their business’ success relies on the kelp farmers getting their production off the ground and spreading the overall popularity of kelp and seaweed as a nutritious food product. At this point, 97 percent of Ocean Approved seaweed products are sold to restaurants.

It would be great if seaweed was readily available to the home cook, because it seems to be both versatile and nutritious. Nutrition information below, from Ocean Approved:

“Kelps are a good source of Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium, Sodium, Copper, Iron, and Iodine. Kelp plants have been described as the ideal food-safe natural source of Iodine.”

Below are extracts from the MVSG website, explaining their interest in seaweed cultivation:

“In recent decades, the water quality in the Island’s ponds has declined significantly and resulted in a damaged local              marine ecosystem, compromised marine habitats and a decline in fish and shellfish populations… the major cause for this environmental decline is nutrient enrichment in the form of excess nitrogen entering the ponds primarily from residential septic systems. The excess nitrogen causes microscopic and macroscopic algal blooms which in turn set in motion a cascade of damaging impacts including decreased dissolved oxygen, increased turbidity, loss of eelgrass, siltation and eventually stressed and dying fish and shellfish. In response to this recommendation, the Island community is searching for effective and affordable methods to reduce the excess levels of nitrogen in the ponds.

…Because of their more direct route of nitrogen removal, seaweed can be even more effective than shellfish as a bioremediation tool for removing nitrogen

…Seaweed culture has the potential to improve Martha’s Vineyard waters while producing a new locally grown product that could also benefit the island’s economy. On the island where the local food movement is deeply anchored in the community, locally grown seaweed could find a place of choice in sustainable restaurants…”

If all this seems like a lot to take in, check out the photos from the event and be intrigued by the simple goodness of the seaweed foods.

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Thank you Slow Food MV, MVSG, Ocean Approved and Beach Plum Inn for collaborating to make a great meal possible, and to generate excitement for this upcoming project in MV waters!

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