[UK] Celebrity chefs have described it as the latest superfood.
And now it seems seaweed could lead to the creation of a multi-million-pound industry and allow the UK to take on the Chinese, who produce more than half the world’s commercial crop.
A report by the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has proposed the establishment of a network of seaweed farms to satisfy growing demand for the salty algae, found in plentiful supply around the coast of the UK.
Traditional seaweed products such as laverbread, a speciality in Wales, and dulse, a popular snack in Scotland, have been made on a relatively small scale for centuries.
But thanks to the endorsement of celebrity chefs such as Heston Blumenthal, who once even called for it to be added to hospital food, seaweed is being rebranded as a healthy salt replacement and flavouring.
Some manufacturers already include it in pizza and pasta dishes, and it can be used to make salads. It is also found in health supplements and beauty products – and research is under way to use it in anti-cancer drugs and to help tackle obesity.
The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the Government agency behind the new report, says global seaweed production has increased from 10.5 million to 28.4 million tons since 2000. But no one knows exactly how much is available around the British coast and this is hampering expansion of the industry here.
Marine biologist Dr Craig Rose, managing director of the specialist firm Seaweed and Co., said: ‘There is huge scope for seaweed production in this country as it’s local, natural and sustainable.
‘But it needs to become mainstream with consumers. It’s like houmous. Years ago, very few people knew what it was – now it’s a big seller.
‘If we scaled up production, it could also become viable for biofuel for electricity, heating and fuel for cars. We could establish a new industry within two years.’
Leading importer Clearspring, based in West London, buys seaweed from the Far East and even France.
A spokesman said: ‘We would be very interested in marketing organic and wild harvested seaweeds from England if there was production to fulfil our requirements.’
Photo: Some manufacturers already include it seaweed in pizza and pasta dishes, and it can be used to make salads