Do you remember Ocean’s Balance, winner of our Season 4 competition? This company makes a line of edible seaweed products, like kelp puree and organic seaweed flakes, that are tasty and gentle on the planet. Their amazing team beat out other impressive candidates to take home the $100,000 prize and are now taking their Gulf of Maine seafood business to the next level. They are absolutely lovely, and what is amazing is that they are just one of the dozens of seaweed businesses cropping up around here lately.
Recently, Maine Seaweed Week organized numerous restaurants to use seaweed in new and innovative ways that were accessible and delicious. Let’s take a closer look at this very renewable resource and the impact the industry is having on Maine’s economy.
Aquaculture is more than a buzzword. The trending topic is getting tons of great press right now, but with its history, substance, and depth, we think it’s a word you’ll be hearing for a long time. Seaweed grows wildly and can be cultivated in the intertidal zone, between the shore and the deep ocean. It has been harvested by coastal people since we stepped out of the primordial ooze. Native Americans in New England and the Pacific Northwest, the rural fishermen of Japan, and simple Celtic islanders all have rich traditions of cooking with kelp, kombu, and other seaweeds. It is a nutrient-dense food source that can be stirred fresh into soups or dried to create a base for an umami-flavored stock. It is rich with iron and a good choice for vegans as well as anyone interested in eating lower on the food chain.
In Maine, where lobster has been king for almost a hundred years, it is slowly becoming an accepted edible again, now that we are more conscious of depleting the ocean of shellfish and deep-water fish. Whether due to warming coastal waters and the lobster migrating north, or the dearth of herring that lobstermen use as bait, there is marked evidence that to remain vital, our working waterfronts need to adapt and adopt to new coastal industries. This is where seaweed comes in. Seaweed has, of course, always been present but fell out of favor as Americans discovered lobster as a delicacy. While lobster stock soared, seaweed was relegated to the sidelines, considered a slippery, slimy nuisance. But ubiquitous seaweed has so many health benefits and is such a profound natural resource in Maine, it’s understandable so many startups are embracing the seaweed.
Seaweed is good for the planet for a myriad of reasons. It requires no freshwater or arable land; you don’t need fertilizers to grow it, and it actively contributes to the reduction of an acidifying ocean. It helps to maintain the delicate balance of our ocean’s precious ecosystem. We are seeing elder statesmen lobstermen who are busy with Maine seaweed harvest in the offseason now, as well as folks from away getting in on the action.
Seaweed is used in a variety of cosmetics, in products for plants and animals, and jarred, dried, and prettily packaged for human consumption, sold at organic shops and farmer’s markets. Any way you look at it, seaweed is good business for Maine. We are excited to see how Ocean’s Balance grows and what our other favorite seaweed businesses do next.
Greenlight Maine likes to celebrate seaweed (and all Maine resources!) all year, but we are especially fond of the work being done by the Maine Seaweed Council, not to mention all the bright young seaweed-centric businesses featured on our show.