SEAWEED’S BEEN AROUND FOR A LONG, LONG TIME.
For some of us seaweed might be a relatively new addition to our diets but it’s actually one of the oldest human foods on earth. In fact, it’s had a long and distinguished history as a food source in many cultures. Seaweed grows in every ocean and sea around the world so it’s no surprise that it’s made a substantial impact on human lives. Recent research indicates that the macroalgae has been used for food and medicinal purposes throughout Asia, Europe and South America for tens of thousands of years. For example, the remains of cooked and partially-eaten seaweed were found at a 14,000 year old site in Southern Chile, indicating that nine species of marine algae were included in the diets of ancient human settlements in the Americas.
WHAT ROLE DID SEAWEED PLAY IN ASIA?
Seaweed has long been a staple in the Asian diet. The use of seaweed as a food source has been traced back to the fourth century in Japan and the sixth century in China, where it was served as a rare delicacy to honored guests and emperors. In Japan, seaweed was used for tax payments and given as gifts to the imperial court. It was also presented as a food offering in Shintō religious rituals. Today, it’s still used to make konbumaki, a traditional Japanese dish served on special occasions and during New Years for good luck. In Korea, seaweed soup has traditionally been eaten as a birthday breakfast and served to women after childbirth to help with recovery and milk production. This tradition of consuming seaweed soup or “birthday soup” is believed to date back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) when people first noticed whales eating seaweed after giving birth. While it’s often eaten on birthdays to honor mothers, it’s also eaten the rest of the year as a common side dish served with rice.
SEAWEED WAS A BIG DEAL IN EUROPE, TOO.
In Europe, seaweed was viewed more as a necessity than a delicacy, and it played a particularly important role in times of economic hardship. During Ireland’s Great Famine (1845-1852), people supplemented their diets with a type of wild reddish-purple algae known as dulse or dillisk. Many inland residents migrated to the coasts to forage for seaweed, surviving by boiling the algae into a porridge-like pulp or drying it in the sun and eating it like a chip. To this day, it remains a well-known snack food in Ireland and Iceland, where it’s enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Recently, Irish chefs and artisans have been incorporating dulse into their cuisine, adding it to pasta, butter, bread and even ice cream. In Britain and Wales, another type of seaweed known as purple laver has been consumed as early as the 1600s. Commonly prepared as “laverbread,” laver is boiled for hours, then pureed or minced into a pudding. It’s still eaten today as part of a traditional Welsh breakfast, spread onto hot buttered toast or mixed with rolled oats to form flat patties known as “lavercakes.”
SEAWEED IS HAVING A MOMENT.
While seaweed’s storied past is impressive on its own, its future is looking bright too. From sequestering carbon to helping restore ecosystems to de-acidifying oceans, the climate benefits of seaweed are making scientists and entrepreneurs sit up and take notice. Its nutritional benefits are undeniable as well. Packed with vitamins, antioxidants and an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and iodine, it’s a feel-good superfoodthat’s so delicious and nutritious that TikTok influencers like @emilymariko can’t help but spread the word. Her salmon rice bowl recipe went viral, racking up over 45 million views. (Check out our take on the recipe here.) While China, Japan and South Korea are still the largest consumers of seaweed by far, the global seaweed market is growing exponentially. In the US alone, seaweed farming is the fastest-growing sector of American aquaculture with dozens of aquatic farms taking off in New England, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, where it’s helping to diversify a mariculture industry that was once exclusively focused on oyster farming. In 2022, food forecasters even predicted that farmed seaweed would start making its way into everyday foods like pasta and salsa.
MAKE YOUR OWN TRADITIONS.
Most of these farms are largely focused on kelp, which is very different than red porphyra, the softer, higher-quality type of seaweed that Gimme cultivates. Grown in a protected region off the coasts of South Korea, our seaweed is USDA-certified organic. Enjoy our seaweed snacks as is or use them as a low-carb alternative to tortillas and tacos. Check out our recipes page for delicious and nutritious ways to incorporate more seaweed into your diet, and start making your own traditions today.