Could Seaweed be the Future for Holistic Green Living?
When walking along a beach, seaweed is often seen as a nuisance; All too often, a layer of green and brown sludge sits between glorious white sands and luscious blue sea, marring an otherwise inviting scene. However, seaweed is now not only being hailed as a solution to the world’s imminent food crisis, but it could also be a viable alternative fuel and hold the key to preventing many diseases.
The possibilities for seaweed are endless. As a food, seaweed is brimming with valuable nutritional goodness. Many seaweed cookbooks are starting to appear, as chefs recognise the superfood’s versatility. One such book is Irish Seaweed Kitchen, by Prannie Rhatigan. It consists of 150 recipes that blend seaweed into a range of unexpected concoctions, such as salads, pasta dishes and desserts. There is even a recipe that incorporates seaweed into a Christmas pudding. The book is a testament to seaweed’s natural goodness; it is rich in essential fatty acids, dietary fibres, amino acids and vitamins A, B, C and E.
“Seaweeds are mysterious powerhouses of minerals, vitamins and trace elements,” said Rhatigan, “but each vegetable has very different properties and these can vary considerably depending on the type of seaweed and the time of year that it’s harvested.”
The book explains the best seaweeds to buy and the times of year to buy them, as well as instructions on how to store it. “It’s important that people have a small amount of a wide variety of the seaweeds – then they’re getting the full synergistic effect of the sea vegetables,” Rhatigan said.
Aside from its capabilities as a superior food source, seaweed is being hailed as a substance that has great medical potential and a natural ability to prevent a range of diseases. There has been much research in the USA and the UK into its anti-viral capabilities, and it has also been found to have anti-cancer traits. It could also be useful in everyday medications, having been found to reduce inflammation in the body. This is being hailed by scientists as a significant development as inflammation is at the heart of many illnesses and diseases.
Other areas of development in the medical field include research into seaweed’s capability to lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system. Nutritionalists are working towards being able to produce a seaweed medication that can reduce the number of harmful lipids in the body, which is an essential part of the prevention of heart disease and obesity.
The world’s ongoing energy and fuel dilemma continues to worsen, as scientists and engineers frantically compete to come up with suitable alternative energy sources. Seaweed farming was recently found to hold the key to a viable solution; earlier this year, it was discovered that a genetically modified microbe could turn seaweed into a low carbon biofuel. Previous biofuels, such as those made from sugar or corn, have been promising in the past, but have ended up leading to an increase in global food prices.
It is thought that seaweed, on the other hand, could be suitable for large-scale use that would supply the world’s energy needs several times over. The discovery that resulted from this new microbe research was hailed this year as a “major breakthrough” in the global energy crisis, and that the next step was to find out if mass production was commercially viable. It would appear that governments may be able to provide the investment needed to make this possible; the UK Government, for example, was one of the first to add seaweed to its energy planning strategy, envisaging a usage of between 560 and 4,700 square kilometres of seaweed farms. Huge interest is being expressed in seaweed investment; both public and private organisations are said to be falling over themselves to put their money in the farming business. Investing fairly will be more of a challenge than that of finding funds; seaweed farming is already a big business, so there will be huge competition to grab a financial slice of this phenomenon.
The microbe essentially turns seaweed into ethanol, which can be used as an alternative to petrol. Daniel Trunfio, chief executive of Bio Architecture Lab (BAL) in Berkeley, California (the company that made the discovery) said that the benefits of seaweed as a biofuel could be exponential for the environment. He stated that if we used 3% of the world’s coastal waters to farm seaweed, we could produce around 60 billion gallons of ethanol. This is more than 40% of the fuel that the USA burns through car and truck fuel. BAL has already secured investment from the US Department of Energy, oil company Statoil and the government of Chile.
In conclusion, seaweed is one to watch for the functional foods industry, as well as the medicine and biofuels markets. With consumer demand for healthy food and drink, along with the growing urgency of the global energy crisis, the potential for seaweed is off-the-scale.