What is Kelp?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Kelp is a type of seaweed or algae belonging to the order Laminariales. Though its appearance is similar to that of plants, it is technically not a plant, but a protist. There are many different kinds, making up around 30 genera.

Live kelp underwater.
Live kelp underwater.

This seaweed grows in underwater forests, in shallow, clear waters cooler than 68°F (20°C), where it grows rapidly and offers food and protection for other marine life. Many people recognize kelp from a trip to the beach. It is anchored to the ocean floor by a structure known as a holdfast, and most of its body resembles a stem with leaves, correctly termed a stipes with blades. The seaweed also features air-filled bladders that allow the rest of the body to float and bring the leaf-like blades to the surface of the water.

Soda ash, which can be made from kelp.
Soda ash, which can be made from kelp.

Humans throughout history have found many uses for kelp. Soda ash, once produced by burning seaweed, is a primary ingredient in glass and soap. Alginate, a carbohydrate harvested from it, is used as a thickening agent in toothpaste, ice cream, jelly, and other products. Some species are also used in certain cuisines, particularly in Japan, or as an organic fertilizer.

Dried kelp.
Dried kelp.

Kelp is a very versatile ingredient in food. It can be used as a flavoring, a garnish, a vegetable, or a snack food. Dried sheets are often used to wrap sushi and other foods. It has a distinctive taste and is both decorative and flavorful.

Soda ash produced in a lab has to some extent replaced the use of kelp.
Soda ash produced in a lab has to some extent replaced the use of kelp.

Though soda ash can now be produced in a lab, kelp was once the world's major source of the material. Scottish Highlanders displaced from their traditional farmlands throughout the 18th and 19th centuries sometimes turned to harvesting the ash to make a living. Though the industry eventually collapsed, kelp remains a commonly used fertilizer in Scotland.

Kelp is used to wrap sushi.
Kelp is used to wrap sushi.
Kelp is a protist, not a plant.
Kelp is a protist, not a plant.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments

turquoise

When I went scuba diving in Hawaii last summer, the sea floor was full of kelp. It looked so gorgeous!

I love how the light travels under water and reflects on the kelp. It's also cool how they sort of dance in the water. It's definitely worth seeing.

Aside from their cool appearance, I think kelp is also a food source for many fish and sea creatures right? Don't many fish feed off of them? I know they live in them, whenever I would touch kelp while diving, several fish would come out.

ysmina

@alisha-- Yes, sea kelp has iodine as do most ocean seaweeds.

I'm not sure about treating an iodine deficiency with it but I know that kelp is used extensively in Japan. When they had that earthquake and faced the threat of radiation, people there started eating kelp and taking kelp supplements to protect themselves. Apparently, kelp can help prevent the damage caused by radiation on the body and can help detoxify the body of it.

Why don't you ask your doctor about kelp? If he says it's okay, I think you should give it a try. Kelp is quite amazing from what I understand.

discographer

I just got back from my doctor's office and apparently I have an iodine deficiency. I was doing some reading about this and one source suggested taking sea kelp supplements. So I guess kelp is a natural source of iodine. How much iodine does it have exactly?

Has anyone here taken kelp supplements to treat an iodine deficiency?

My doctor told me to eat more salt, but I can only put so much salt in foods. If kelp supplements are an option, I think I would prefer that. Please share your experience!

jadona2006

can I take kelp supplements if allergic to iodine?

anon14405

Can one take kelp supplments saftely if they are allergic to shellfish?

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