According to a recent survey conducted by Nofima, many people are positive about eating seaweed and kelp, despite the fact that many know little about them.

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Lidunn Mosaker Boge  

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Several companies are in the process of growing seaweed and kelp along the Norwegian coast. After the crop is harvested, it will be turned into food products, and the goal is for you and I to buy them. Experts around the world agree that the food we eat must become more sustainable and more diverse if the world’s growing population is to have enough food to eat. But do we want to serve seaweed at the table?

Florent Govaerts is a doctoral research fellow at the Nofima food research institute and is currently studying Norwegians’ attitudes towards eating seaweed and kelp as part of the Nordic collaborative project called SUREAQUA. He recently conducted a nationwide survey in which 550 Norwegians participated.

“Generally speaking, Norwegians have positive expectations regarding seaweed-based products. Despite not knowing much about the products, the majority say they are willing to try”, Govaerts says.

Many consumers are unsure about the difference between seaweed and kelp. The majority of product packaging states that ‘seaweed’ is an ingredient. Therefore, consumers were asked about the term ‘seaweed’ in the survey, as a collective term for both seaweed and kelp products.

What do consumers actually know about seaweed?

Survey participants were asked about different seaweed characteristics, including characteristics that affect the environment.

Only a third of the participants believed that seaweed absorbs and stores CO2, while the remainder had no opinion on the matter. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed did not know that seaweed contains a lot of iodine, which in the right quantities is important for health.

Both a low environmental impact and the fact that they are rich in minerals are characteristics that are often highlighted as being positive by the producers when seaweed and kelp are utilised as food. Despite the fact that consumers knew little about this, they had a positive impression of eating these marine plants.

“A third of the participants were sceptical about how it would taste, but the vast majority believed that it is both healthy and safe to eat seaweed products. As much as 72 percent also believed that seaweed products are organic”, says Govaerts.

The extent to which seaweed can be termed organic depends on processes such as its production, not the characteristics of seaweed itself.

Attitudes to seaweed
Results from a consumer study conducted in 2020. The percentage refers to the amount of respondents who agreed to the statement. © Nofima

Did you know that seaweed and kelp …

  • … help to capture CO2 and produce O2, thereby having a neutral impact on the environment.
  • … grow rapidly, and therefore have a higher capacity to capture carbon compared to plant species that grow more slowly.
  • … are rich in protein, and contain little fat and few calories.
  • … have antioxidant properties, and are rich in vitamins and minerals – including iodine, which in the right quantities is important for health.
  • … are used as base-products in a variety of foods around the world, especially in Asia – such as sushi, soups and salads.

Becoming familiar with seaweed via sushi

One group stood out as being the most positive towards this new food source. The survey showed that environmentally conscious, young and highly educated people were more positive about eating seaweed compared to older and less educated people. Of those who already eat seaweed, most were in the 18 to 29 age group.

“Many Norwegians are introduced to seaweed products through eating sushi. They also stated that spices and snacks are the two seaweed products they would buy the most if they became available in shops”, says Govaerts.

The fact that seaweed can be used in many different ways is an advantage for the producers”, Govaerts believes.

“Currently, interest is probably greatest among Asians, where they have many established traditions of eating seaweed. Norway, however, is a seafood-eating country, and it may therefore also be natural for producers to think about local markets”, he says.

Vegetarian trends are making seaweed more relevant

There is a growing interest and willingness to pay for food that is sustainable, organic or plant-based. Florent Govaerts does not disregard the fact that this may also play a part in influencing the positive attitudes seen in the survey.

“People who are concerned about the environment, health and well-being are more willing to eat seaweed compared to those who are not so concerned about this. Therefore, seaweed producers should focus on increasing knowledge about environmental impact and health factors among consumers”, is the advice given by the doctoral research fellow.

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