Name the last place where you saw seaweed on the menu, not including a Japanese restaurant. Drawing a blank? That may be because, outside of Japan and other parts of Asia, seaweed’s unique flavor and mouthfeel have not been widely embraced.
These marine plants and algae are sometimes called “sea vegetables”—but there are reasons beyond gastronomy to appreciate them. Kelp, in particular, has the potential to greatly reduce ocean acidification. Naturally occurring in cold, coastal marine waters, kelp grows quickly without the need for fertilizer, and it takes up carbon dioxide—which can exacerbate climate change—as well as excess nitrogen and phosphorus. The problem, though, is that there’s not enough of it.
Enter kelp farming. China currently leads the industry, having produced more than seven million metric tons in 2015, says University of British Columbia marine ecologist Muhammed Oyinlola. Kelp farms have also been in operation for centuries in Japan and Korea.