From the sea to the store: how seaweed is tapping into healthy snacking

A company called Seaweed & Co is proving that the ingredient can straddle manufacturing, retail and foodservice, as research into its health benefits ramps up.

8 October 2018

Known as Doctor Seaweed, Dr Craig Rose is out to boost the profile of seaweed through its health benefits.

The owner of food company Seaweed & Co, Rose is currently working with the University of Glasgow Medical School, which is looking at seaweed as a natural iodine source. The higher education institution is conducting clinical trials using capsules, but will also incorporate seaweed into pizza bases as part of its testing.

“The UK has a big problem with iodine deficiency, with a worse rate than South Sudan, and 76% of teenage girls have a diet insufficient in the nutrient. It’s a mineral or nutrient that is not understood as you have to eat it or you don’t get it,” he explains.

As Dr Laura Wyness previously told Food Spark, iodine is necessary for thyroid and metabolism function, but isn’t found in many foods – with fish, dairy and seaweed all natural sources.

“White fish is a better source than salmon, but then dairy is on the decline with people having a lot of dairy alternatives which are vegan, but they are not a source of iodine, but seaweed ticks both boxes for those on a plant-based diet,” Rose tells Food Spark.

“Seaweed is a natural plant-based source of iodine. It’s allergen free and it’s also kosher certified, as in that diet you can’t have crabs and crustacean, so it ticks a lot of boxes nutritionally and ethically. The Glasgow project is looking at further work to really understand the effects of seaweed on health.”

Rose is also partnering with Newcastle University Medical School to investigate how specific natural compounds in seaweed can address aspects of obesity and diabetes through the inhibition of key enzymes responsible for fat and carbohydrate digestion.

From crackers to cheese

Rose set up his company because he could see seaweed had huge potential in terms of food and nutrition. Armed with a PhD in marine biology, he was determined to show the plant could work in manufacturing, retail and foodservice, not just in terms of wellbeing but to aid flavour and salt enhancement as well.

Originally, he started the business to supply manufacturers with sustainable seaweed harvested in the Scottish sea lochs around the remote islands of the Outer Hebrides.

“There have been diverse applications, such as snack foods like The Food Doctor’s smoked-seaweed-coated edamame bean. Waitrose and M&S have seaweed oatcakes and crackers from Stag Bakeries, Rude Health are in Waitrose and Ocado with seaweed and sesame oatmeal cakes, M&S do a seaweed cheese and a smoked seaweed mayonnaise, and Off The Eaten Path brand from PepisiCo are in Sainsbury’s and Ocado with two seaweed-focused flavours of crisps,” he says.

The elephant in the room

But then Rose saw an opportunity for the company to launch its own products with a sea-to-store concept. Under the brand Weed & Wonderful, the business has four certified organic products, including seaweed capsules and three types of seaweed-infused oils, including two smoked varieties.

“One of key things with seaweed is that everyone knows what seaweed is but they might think it’s weird. But there is always the intrigue there, so it’s about getting them to take it off shelf and put it in the trolley. Weed & Wonderful is addressing the elephant in the room – it’s not weird, it’s wonderful, and it’s got nutritional properties. It’s good for you and tastes nice,” he says.

A survey he conducted with Innovate UK found that 88% of people believe that seaweed is good for them but the majority don’t buy it regularly as the products aren’t accessible, appealing or familiar.

Rose says the reason he chose to launch seaweed oils is he wanted to make sure the finished products were really easy for consumers to use – and let’s face it, everyone knows how to work with oil, whether it’s drizzling it over a salad, frying something up or roasting vegetables.

“For us, what we try and convey with our Weed & Wonderful products is it’s more than just a brand, and we are not just a marketing company that put a brand to the product. It’s our seaweed from our production that we are selling into other companies,” he explains.

Delivering seaweed in concentrated form seems to be growing trend too. Start-up Octopus’s Garden, for example have created Umami Drops that are made from organic seaweed and other organic vegetables like onions, carrots, celery and mushrooms.

The drops have an intense savoury-sweet flavour and act as a natural flavour enhancer. They can be used as a condiment or added to food during preparation. Octopus’s Garden recommends using them with everything from avocado and poached eggs to noodles, stir-fries, soup, fish and dhal. 

Chefs and condiments

Now, Rose is looking to supply into foodservice. He says there is an increasing interest from chefs and sees this avenue as offering huge scope to gain more acceptance from consumers, with the oil products having the potential to boost everything from brunch to Sunday roast.

He’s also confident that the proliferation of seaweed in snacks and condiments will continue.

“Seaweed is a forgotten food and we say we are rediscovering a forgotten food. Most countries have used it before and we know what sushi is and that is the starting point, where consumers have been to Yo Sushi or bought some sushi in Asda,” he says.

“Not only is it building a British industry, it’s incredibly sustainable, and through our own finished products and the plethora of food and nutritional products emerging, it’s becoming a more and more mainstream food as consumers accept it.”

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