Seaweed soars as a superfood

By Gemma Hartley

The sushi staple is fast becoming a go-to health snack.
Seasoned seaweed snacks from Korea. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Seasoned seaweed snacks from Korea. Photo / Brett Phibbs

You've likely chewed on seaweed wrapped around a sushi roll but few would consider picking up a bag of it at the grocery store.

Now that's changing as health-conscious restaurants, cafes and supermarkets begin selling the so-called superfood. Seaweed is filled with antioxidants, calcium and a broad range of vitamins.

Last year more than $5 million worth of seaweed and related products were imported from around the world - an increase of 38 per cent since 2012.

Albany-based Pacific Harvest is looking to fill the gap in the market by harvesting and producing seaweed in New Zealand.

The husband-and-wife team began the business in 2002. Fourteen years later they supply seaweed to one of the best restaurants in the country and sell homegrown products abroad.

Manager Doug Fawcett said sales in seaweed had increased.

"It's been a steady growth since we started, even in the financial crisis.

We harvest seaweed from all around New Zealand and get kelp from the North Island.

"We sell mainly to high-end food stores, health stores and restaurants. We sell four types of seaweed a week to the French Cafe. I think more people are getting wired into the benefits of seaweed."

It has been used all over the world for thousands of years, but has most notably been a prominent part of Asian diets, particularly in Japan, Korea and China.

Masa Sekikawa, adviser to the Japan Society in New Zealand said it had scientifically proven benefits. "Nori [seaweed] is versatile and is used in everything from miso soup to sushi and decorative food on some of the gourmet plates in Japanese restaurants. As children we were told by our elders that if you ate nori you would grow beautiful dark hair."

Katherine Klouwens, External Relations Manager for Foodstuffs, said new "snacking seaweed" products were introduced last year and rapidly became popular. The company sold it in New World and Pak 'N Save supermarkets in Auckland and planned to roll it out across the country.

A 2011 study published in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reviewed 100 studies on the health benefits of seaweed and reported some of the proteins in seaweed are better sources of bioactive peptides - which reduce blood pressure and boost heart health - than those in milk products.

- Herald on Sunday

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