Kelp Could Be The New Kale, But Only If We Can Get Over The Slime Factor

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Kale’s time in the leafy greens spotlight could finally be ending. The new contender for the throne: Seaweed. At least, according to an article in the upcoming (November 2) “Food Issue” of The New Yorker.

The benefits of seaweed are myriad and it’s not just about the nutrition (which the article doesn’t even touch, but suffice it to say: Naturally-occuring iodine, hormone regulation, and antioxidants). Ecologically speaking, seaweed is, in no uncertain terms, the guilt-absolving electric car of food. It doesn’t need fresh water or fertilizer to grow and “absorbs dissolved nitrogen, phosphorous, and carbon dioxide directly from the sea — its footprint is negative,” author Dana Goodyear writes in the article. Also, it grows lightning fast: kelp can expand up to three-quarters of an inch in a day, and up to 10 feet over the course of a winter. The taste is naturally briny and oceanic, vaguely fishy — which is convenient in a time when some scientists are predicting fishless oceans by 2050.

So, what’s stopping us from assimilating this miracle food into our diets? Texture, also known as the slime factor. Or, as one preschooler Goodyear served kelp noodles to said, “What is that disgusting oobleck?” To those sage words, Bren Smith, a Connecticut-based kelp farmer, told Goodyear, “We’re picking one of the toughest food types to convince Americans to eat… but we have no choice.”

The good news is, we Americans love our snacks, and so, as with kale, the snack food aisle will probably be where seaweed makes its first true introduction our sensitive, formerly bacon-loving, newly bacon forgoing palates. Whole Foods already sells Ocean’s Halo seaweed products in the chip aisle, alongside the other more conventional tuber-based snacks. And of course there’s sushi, which we will take any day of the week.

One intriguing use of seaweed: The Irish picked up a taste for dulse (also known as red kale, but really not kale at all) out of necessity during the famine, and still wild-harvest it today. Apparently it’s delicious with potatoes.

As innovative chefs experiment with the ingredient (playing with texture and flavor combinations) perhaps it really will become a new staple of a modern diet. Assuming we’re not too busy eating crickets.