Seaweed farmers at mandapam camp in Ramnad district. Photo: M.J. Prabu

D. Balasubramanian writes in thehindu.com that about 844 seaweed species are documented from India, a country with a coast line of 7,500 km. Peninsular India from Gujarat all way to Odisha and West Bengal has a coast line of 5,200 km, and Andaman and Nicobar together have a coast line of 2,500 km. Thus, while India has 63% of its land area for crop agriculture, its vast coastal area is bountiful for raising seaweeds.

Research in the area of edible seaweeds in India has been going on for over 40 years. The Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI) at Bhavnagar, Gujarat has done pioneering work in the area. Dr. Amitava Das, its Director, tells us that over 20 scientists there have been involved for decades in research and propagation of seaweeds as potential foods for people, as well as for isolating important chemicals of technological importance and crop biostimulant purposes.

Professor CRK Reddy, who was at CSMCRI for decades and is currently at the Institute for Chemical Technology, Mumbai, has been an active advocate of seaweeds as food. He points out that among the seaweeds found in plenty, Ulva, Pyropia, Porphyra and Kappaphycus are edible and that it will be good to cultivate them in large scale, as is done in countries like Japan. And Dr. Arockiaraj Johnbosco points out (Times of India, 12-1-2016) that, of the 306 seaweeds in the Gulf of Mannar, 252 are edible.

Thus, a growing consensus believes that India should embark on mariculture as vigorously as agriculture, given its 7,500 km-long coastal line. Seaweeds are rich sources of vitamins A and C, and minerals such as Ca, Mg, Zn, Se and Fe. They also have a high level of vegetable proteins and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. Best of all, they are vegetarian, indeed vegan, and do not have any fishy smell, thus good and acceptable for a large population.

Professor Reddy has suggested that India may “break in” through the use of seaweeds as pizza seasoning, or in spice sachets, so that people get used to them. After all, if the entire Eastern Asian population eats them, why not India?

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