Edible algae 101: why it’s trendy to eat seaweed and pond scum

By Rachel O'Regan |

I Quit Sugar – Edible algae 101: why it’s trendy to eat seaweed and pond scum

We bet you’ve never walked past a lump of seaweed on the beach or a particularly gunky pond and thought “mmm, dinner!”.

But the latest trend takes the slippery and slimy and makes it fashionable. We’re not just talking nori rolls. Think kelp noodles, seaweed “bacon”, spirulina smoothies. Even (coffee puritans, look away now) blue algae lattés that look straight out of Star Wars.

But is there any health benefit to edible algae, or are people just weird? Let’s explore the secrets of the deep.

What is edible algae?

Algae doesn’t really have a strict definition. It’s a bit of an umbrella term for a bunch of organisms ranging from microscopic bacteria to giant kelp forests growing more than 45 metres tall. Algae is mostly aquatic, and comes in variety of colours.

But what’s so great about eating seaweed?

Sea vegetables are very mineral-rich. It’s a particularly great source of iodine, which about 187 million people around the world aren’t getting enough of.

Different plants have different strengths. Beef jerky-like kombu contains rare enzymes that help digestion, silky wakame is full of calcium and dulse has twice the nutrients of kale – and tastes like bacon when fried. Kelp may even help assist weight loss, as Jamie Oliver has attested (sending sales up by 125 per cent). 

What about the stuff that makes water green?

Many varieties of microscopic algae are actually very toxic – including blue-green algae. But responsibly sourced spirulina or chlorella algae are safe to eat.

In fact, they are both nutritional powerhouses. At up to 71 per cent protein, spirulina contains the full spectrum of essential amino acids and a huge amount of B vitamins. Chlorella is about 45 per cent protein and rich in vitamins and minerals including magnesium.

How do I get my edible algae fix?

Sadly, the seaweed you find at the shops is often mucked-with. Nori sheets are coated with vegetable oils and seaweed salad is dressed in sugar. Look out for varieties at your local health shop or Asian grocer with the least ingredients.

As for spirulina and chlorella, you can find the powders in health stores. Though expensive, they add an extra boost of nutrition to smoothies, or coffee if you’re brave enough. But if it’s not in your budget, don’t worry – a diet full of normal veggies is plenty enough.

Would you eat edible algae for the health benefits, or simply stick to normal veggies?

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