Plant-based meat substitutes are becoming an increasingly important part of many people's diets, even among omnivores who also enjoy eating meat from time to time. In 2021, Americans spent $1.4 billion USD on plant-based meat alternatives, with 19% of households consuming products from brands such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
But while burgers made with soy protein, vegetables, and black beans are now commonplace, seaweed burgers are a newer, yet exciting, concept. Though you might think of seaweed as that slimy green stuff that sticks to you at the beach, the benefits of using nutrient-dense seaweed as a meat alternative are obvious. Since seaweed grows in the ocean, it doesn't use up valuable farmland or require fertilizer that can pollute freshwater sources. It doesn't emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as factory farming does, but instead captures carbon and produces oxygen.
AKUA is hoping to put seaweed on the culinary map in the United States. Founded in 2019, the Brooklyn-based company uses sustainably-grown seaweed from aquaculture farms in New England. Their products include kelp jerky containing microalgae and spirulina, and protein-rich Kelp Burgers and Krab Cakes featuring ocean-farmed kelp along with black beans, mushrooms, pea protein, and quinoa.
According to AKUA founder Courtney Boyd Myers, “[Kelp] grows really fast — about a foot per month — which makes it even more efficient than most land-based plants at absorbing carbon dioxide and turning it into its biomass and oxygen. Our ocean is one of the biggest absorbers of carbon dioxide, so kelp forests and kelp farms have a vital role to play in combating climate change and helping deacidify our oceans.”
- Around the world, other companies are getting in on the seaweed action. The excellently-named Dutch Weed Burger relies on soy for the base of its patties but enriches and flavors them with sugar kelp.
- Umaro Foods, a company based in Berkeley, California that recently appeared on Shark Tank, has developed seaweed bacon which is now appearing on restaurant menus in New York City and San Francisco.
- Although seaweed is a relatively new addition to many western diets (you're probably most familiar with it as nori, the dried seaweed wrapper for sushi), it has been a staple of East Asian cuisine for centuries. In 2020, South Koreans ate an average of 20.4 pounds (9.25 kg) of seaweed per capita.