"Kelp Me?" Learning with Briana Warner!
By: Marketing Manager Intern, UMass Dartmouth-Kendall, Michaella Lesieur
Did you know that there are over 30 different types of kelp?! This might just be your fun fact of the day. We had the opportunity to speak to the CEO of Atlantic Sea Farms, Briana Warner to learn all there is to this ocean veggie and are excited to share all of our findings. So what are we waiting for? Let's get started!
We first learned that kelp is in fact part of the seaweed family and the Atlantic Sea Farms is proud to be able to supply two different variants. “...We grow sugar kelp and skinny kelp - both of which grow natively here in Maine. All of our kelp is rope grown - not wild harvested,” she said. “We grow our kelp in the winter and harvest it when it is still relatively small - so it’s still basically ‘baby kelp’ (like baby spinach, for example). We plant the kelp between October and December and harvest it between April and June.”
If you're looking for something to munch on seaweed based foods and snacks are great to pack for lunch or serve at dinner. There are so many ways to incorporate the seaweed it all just comes down to preference. “Kelp is usually used in its dried/dehydrated form and imported from Asia. People use it in stocks and flavoring and in seaweed snacks,” said Warner. “We think that kelp tastes best when it is in its fresh form - rather than dehydrated and rehydrated. We make products that are either blanched and then flash frozen (like our super versatile kelp cubes or ready-cut kelp) or fermented into some really delicious, probiotic rich products like our Sea-Chi, Sea-Beet Kraut, or Fermented Seaweed Salad.”
Warner’s all time favorite sounds amazing and will leave your mouth watering. “All of our products are delicious, but I really can't get enough of the combination of our sea-beet kraut on crab or fish,” said Warner.
Kelp is also sustainable and helps our oceans tremendously. “Wild kelp forests host some of the most productive and diverse ecosystems on the planet and help to protect against storm surge, etc. So we really think that the wild kelp beds should stay where they are - that's one of the reasons we farm our kelp rather than wild harvest,” said Warner. “Human activity has significantly increased the levels of both nitrogen and carbon in the water - which causes ocean acidification. Kelp absorbs this carbon and nitrogen and, when we plant and then remove the kelp from the water, we are helping to mitigate some of the effects of ocean acidification.” Fascinating right?
Lobster man to aqua farmer is a great way to keep your business going all year. “We truly believe that Maine lobster fishermen, who each run their own lobstering business from smaller boats, make the best seaweed farmers. They have most of the equipment that is needed - a good boat, ropes, etc.. More importantly, however, they have incredible technical knowledge about the ocean and gear - and they make innovations almost immediately as they set up their farms,” Warner said. “We primarily work with fishermen not only because it is a way to help diversify our coastal economy in the face of an increasingly vulnerable lobster fishery, but also because they are really really good at farming!”
You can get your dose of vitamins and minerals too and with being a vegetarian or vegan this is a great way to help supplement. “Kelp is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. It contains B1, B2, C, D, E and tons of minerals like zinc, iodine, magnesium, iron, potassium, and calcium. It is also loaded with Omega-3s, which is a vital nutrient that is hard to get on a vegetarian or vegan diet,” said Warner. “People should eat it because it’s good for them - but also because it's delicious and is great for the environment. We call it the Virtuous Vegetable.”
We also learned that there is some sort of magic to kelp… “When seaweed is added to hot water, the brown pigments dissolve and the bright green color from chlorophyll comes out. It’s such a neat process to show to kids - they love to see the color change,” she said. “Rather than using harmful artificial dyes, we blanch our kelp which gives it a tender flavor and a really beautiful green color!”
For those of you looking to add this veggie to your kids diets there is a way to add it and we can assure you they will love it. “I sneak it into my kids' smoothies in the morning in the form of our kelp cubes - they don't even know they are drinking something that is super healthy! Kids also seem to really love our fermented seaweed salad because the delicious sweet and salty taste,” Warner said. “You can really put kelp into anything and kids will be none the wiser. Our operations manager melts our kelp cubes into pasta sauces for a little umami taste and a nice health boost!”
New research is currently in the works and kelp may be used for other things besides people and oceans. “There is some fascinating research being done with kelp right now to develop sustainable bioplastics and biocrude to make into oil and gasoline. Companies put it into cosmetics and nutraceuticals. We are even supporting some research being done to produce kelp-based feed for cows to reduce methane emissions,” she said proudly.
It might be time to start looking at where your kelp based products are coming from and local is always best. “98% of the seaweed we consume in the U.S. is imported dried from Asia and grown in compromised waters with concerning labor practices,” said Warner. “We are thrilled to be providing first-to-market fresh seaweed products grown here in the clean-cold waters of Maine by fishermen.”
So why not try something new? Atlantic Sea Farms is a great company working to promote kelp and support farms and better nutrition for all. If you are interested in learning more you can visit atlanticseafarms.com/. They even have a count-down going on for their next harvest!