Do the Oceans and Fishermen a Favor and Go Kelp Yourself

Sustainable seaweed should be on your plate in 2022.

American-grown seaweeds
Photo: Photo by Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Carrie Purcell / Prop Styling by Jillian Knox

Want to eat one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, one that's great for the environment and actually helps sustain local Maine fishing communities, too? Of course you do. So start buying kelp.

"The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the oceans in the world," says Briana Warner, the CEO of Atlantic Sea Farms in Saco, Maine. For decades, fishermen in Warner's state thrived on cod, haddock, clams, shrimp, and lobster. Today, thanks to steep declines in fish populations, Maine's lobster fishery is, as Warner puts it, "the last man standing." Maine fishermen, she says, "have boats, run their own businesses, and have a conservation ethic, too, but they have always had multiple fisheries. Now, there's just this one." Warner, whose background is in economic development, started working on the problem in 2014. And the answer was kelp.

Kelp harvesting gives fishermen an off-season income and, thanks to Atlantic Sea Farms' model, offers minimal risk. "They pay for their ropes in the water, and their time, but we provide free seeds and buy everything they produce," she says. The model works. In 2018, ASF produced 20,000 pounds of kelp. This year, it will grow, with the help of 24 partner fishermen, to more than 1.3 million pounds.

Warner's products are made with fresh, undried, undyed kelp from clean, cold Maine waters. Does she eat it herself? "All the time. And I have a 3- and a 5-year-old who get a smoothie with kelp every morning. We make really, really yummy products." Even so, her favorite thing about kelp isn't how good it tastes; it's what it can do to help people.

"Our first season, one of our fishermen was landing his kelp. We cut checks for it right there on the dock. And there were people hanging out, wondering what the hell was going on. So he walked the check down to the end of the dock, held it up, and said, 'Look here, guys, this is the future.'"

Ocean Abundance

Three delicious, American-grown seaweeds and how to use them.

1. Kelp

The term "kelp" covers a large range of brown sea vegetables, sold fresh, dried, and frozen. We love thawed frozen kelp such as that sold by Atlantic Sea Farms chopped up and tossed in salads; blended into creamy, savory soups; or sautéed with fresh greens and tossed with pasta. Dried kelp (often sold as kombu) is the perfect enriching addition to every soup, broth, or pot of beans.

2. Irish Moss

An algae that grows in the north Atlantic Ocean, Irish moss has a frilly, bushy shape. It contains high levels of carrageenan, commonly used as a vegetarian substitute for gelatin, which gives it a chewy, bouncy bite once rehydrated.

3. Dulse

A red seaweed that commonly grows in the Northeastern Atlantic and around the U.K., has a mildly-oceanic flavor with a pronounced mineral taste when dried. Once it absorbs liquids, it becomes tender and springy in texture. For a "meaty" treat, pan-fry dried dulse until crisp to bring out its savory, smoky, and, some say, bacon-y flavors. —Kelsey Youngman

Seaweed and Greens Salad

Seaweed and Greens Salad
Photo by Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Carrie Purcell / Prop Styling by Jillian Knox
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