Vitamin-rich sweet kelp is about to make waves in the US market
September 12, 2022 — Researchers from the Uconn Extension, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, are increasing the accessibility of superfood algae. The team seeks to increase the supply and demand of sugar kelp, a species of seaweed, by providing research and community awareness.
As it stands, sugar kelp is not widely available in Connecticut, USA, nor is it highly desired by consumers. Researchers want to change that and demonstrate to farmers and shoppers that kelp is a healthy and environmentally sustainable food option.
“The industry is still small and facing challenges, but we will continue to work to get sweet kelp on the menu in more homes and restaurants,” says Anoushka Concepcion, associate extension educator at the College of Agriculture. , health and natural resources. .
Using knowledge of the algae life cycle, the researchers were able to educate local shellfish farmers in Connecticut on how to diversify their crops and grow algae.
From crop diversification, the researchers said growers “not only grow a versatile and environmentally friendly product, but also minimize their financial risk and improve economic viability.”
market and make it more accessible to consumers. Accessibility should then stimulate the desire and increase the profits of the farmers.Outreach was conducted to increase the supply of seaweed in the Connecticut
The growers partnered with Sea Grant for federal grants in 2013 and 2015. The partnership identifies any potential food safety hazards from the seaweed. The results were the country’s first publication on seaweed food safety; however, the report is specific to Connecticut algae but can be referenced internationally as a model.
“We’re making sure public health officials and farmers have the information they need about what a successful Connecticut algae farm looks like,” Concepcion says.
Sustainable and nutritional benefits
Algae is a generic name for many species of seaweed. The species the researchers are focusing on is the sugar kelp found in shallow coastal areas. It has a shape of a long wavy strand and a yellow, brown color.
Sweet kelp contains many different vitamins and nutrients, making it a desirable option for researchers to explore. Kelp contains fiber, vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, iodine, magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin K.
NutritionInsights reported on the skin benefits of a seaweed extract that has the “potential to prevent and improve skin aging, while providing anti-inflammatory properties.”
Seaweed, a food rich in vital nutrients, has also been researched to combat food scarcity and world hunger.
The plant is grown from sunlight and absorbs excess nutrients and carbon dioxide from the water in which it grows.
Currently, sweet kelp is used in soups and salads in other parts of the world due to its sweet flavor and thick texture.
Offer versus demand
The extension program provides access to new markets that help farmers extend their season. They hope this will help increase consumer demand and access to products.
The researchers predict that customer demand must be demonstrated for growers and others in the food industry to feel comfortable adding kelp to their food portfolios.
Sugar kelp producers are not producing at maximum capacity due to farming operations and must be responsible for their distribution and marketing.
“Although growers are very interested in growing algae, we really need to see increased and consistent sales from consumers. Supply and demand don’t match right now,” Concepcion continues.
If consistent sales are showing, it could justify the cost to producers of investing in safe, long-term storage for kelp. Sales would then expand market access throughout the year. More farmers could be encouraged to join growing markets if they see it as a profitable business.
“Consumers are interested, but they’re unable to get their hands on it,” says Concepcion.
A current obstacle is the short shelf life of kelps. Researchers are studying how to make it last longer due to Connecticut’s short growing season.
Much more needs to be done for a smooth introduction of sweet kelp. Distributors need to be brought into the industry, another obstacle to the kelp food system.
Extension tries to “inform multiple audiences about the barriers, including preservation and distribution, that exist for the industry.”
Phase two of the project is scheduled to begin in January 2023. Those involved have received renewed funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create a National Seaweed Hub to expand and improve operations.
Edited by Sabine Waldeck
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