Everything’s coming up kelp

·2 min read
A worker dries kelp in Lidao Township, Rongcheng, in east China’s Shandong Province
A worker dries kelp in Lidao Township, Rongcheng, in east China’s Shandong Province

Yes, the plant-based meat alternative industry is positively exploding. But what if we, as consumers, turned our attention away from meat imitators and toward plant-based foods that are just as delicious on their own—no faking required? That’s the premise behind a recent New York Times recommendation for kelp burgers made by Akua, a kelp-based snack company based in Portland, Maine. The Times writes that the burgers “are plant-based but not trying to be meat,” explaining:

“Kelp is the main ingredient, and they’re bolstered with mushrooms, pea protein, quinoa, black beans, chickpea flour and seasonings for a satisfying veggie burger. They’re best seared on a griddle, loaded with condiments and piled into a bun.”

Intrigued, I checked out Akua’s website. Turns out all of the company’s products are made from ocean-farmed kelp, which the company describes as “one of the most healing and healthy forms of food on the planet.” It’s also a zero-input crop that requires “no fresh water, no fertilizer, no feed, and no arid land to grow.” Plus, kelp is good for the environment, helping to filter carbon and nitrogen from the water. More than that, it’s also a bit of a superfood, overflowing with Vitamins A, B6, E, and K, as well as zinc, calcium, folate, potassium, and iron.

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Don’t get me wrong: eating kelp is nothing new. As the BBC reported in 2012, at least 145 species of red, brown, or green seaweed are used worldwide as food, particularly in China, Japan, and Korea, where seaweed has been a daily staple for centuries. Kelp also has a history as a key resource for indigenous communities in the Pacific Northwest, where steam pits were lined with kelp and other seaweeds to add moisture and flavor to fresh-caught fish. But the Times recommendation bodes well, I think, as it pertains to the general conversation around meat substitutes. These kelp burgers aren’t trying to be meat; rather, they might serve as a means to expose consumers to already delicious plant life—and age-old agricultural traditions that don’t require ecological destruction.