Kelp Research – an interview with Mei Setzu
Mei Setzu in conversation with Owen Griffiths. Kelp Research, Fredrikstad, Norway. June 18th 2014.
Although seaweeds are algae and not plants in the usual sense, humans have always eaten them. They grow in all of the worlds coastal and climactic zones, manifesting themselves in a wealth of species, colours and shapes….Seaweed can be used directly – either raw dried or cooked. While they have relatively very few calories, seaweed contains a vast abundance of minerals, trace elements, proteins and vitamins as well as healthy dietary fiber and vital oils and fats.
Ole G. Mourtisen
When did you first become interested in seaweed? I have always been interested in seaweed as a kid playing by the sea but got seriously into it in 2011 looking at sustainable development projects in North Norway, the Vesterålen archipelago. We did a pilot project, mapping out what kinds of species existing there and we have been playing, testing and experimenting with harvesting and drying techniques ever since. I also want to add that my interest is in wild foods / wild seaweed (alt. sustainable small scaled locally farmed on lines seaweed) – that’s a pretty important part of it!
Should we say kelp or seaweed what is the difference? In this I am personally not too scientific some purists will insist on Kelp but I believe in keeping things simple.. so seaweed, sea greens even sea veggies as in the culinary use. I am keen to promote and raise awareness around these terms to make them less scary and easier for people to ‘get’ if you know what I mean.
Where can you harvest seaweed in Scandinavia?References exist as far back as year 280, from south East Asia to the Icelandic sagas and so many different names are used depending on culture, geography or usage. You can harvest seaweed along the entire coast of the north Atlantic, all of Scandinavia there’s about 200 different species but what´s important is water temperature. Cool waters are the best, and good tidal conditions. The best times to harvest are from February to April and then in the fall from September onwards.
We have harvested finger tang and sugar kelp. What other types are there? Alaria / Wakame (called Vingetang in Norwegian), Dulse / Palmaria (called Søl in Norwegian), and very common is sea salad, green algae, also know as Ulva, found in rocks and tidal pools. And lastly of the very common ones I´d recommend eating is something called Gutweed, which is in season now (June)! Squeezed dry in a tea towel and deep fried for a few seconds, it produces genuine “crispy seaweed”. You might recognize it as Laver – there is lots of that in Wales I hear.
Can you tell us about the nutritional values of kelp? Oh it’s most definitely a SUPER sonic food but each type will vary, very briefly some nutrition facts are: 1. Its a non milk source of calcium, not only important for bone health but also muscle function, nerve transmission and hormone secretion, low in calories so often used in diet supplements 2. Good sources of both iron and vitamin B-12 to build red blood cells / better blood 3. Iodine to keep your metabolic rate going. 4. Full of antioxidants – studies have shown that seaweed is an extraordinarily potent source of antioxidants and also helps prevent inflammation, which can contribute to a host of ailments that include arthritis, celiac disease, asthma, depression and obesity. The sustainability factor: Kelp “can grow as fast as half a meter a day,” we can eat plenty of it and be confident that we aren’t disrupting any ecosystems if harvested responsibly. Quite simply, when kelp is harvested, more kelp will grow in its place, so it actually benefits kelp and the whole underwater ecosystem. So by eating kelp, you’re getting more than the nutritional benefits I mentioned. You’re getting the knowledge and satisfaction that you are preserving the environment. In fact, kelp may be one of the most sustainable plants to incorporate in your diet. If you’re concerned with sustainability, perhaps you already eat a vegetarian or vegan diet to minimize the negative externalities of eating habits.
Image: Kombu Harvest, Japan. Archival image.