Karengo, also known as “sea lettuce,” is already used for food by many in New Zealand but is typically a wild-harvest plant. Photo: Rosa Woods

Skara Bohny reports in Stuff.co.nz that New Zealand’s Cawthron Institute is receiving funding as part of the High-Value Nutrition’s (HVN) National Science Challenge to develop a Māori taonga species of seaweed closely related to Japanese nori into a high-value product.

Cawthron is working in collaboration with Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Wakatū Incorporation to explore the potential of the seaweed karengo and has received $596,000 from HVN towards that work.

Research lead Dr. Tom Wheeler said that while karengo was a traditional source of kaimoana for Māori, there was little research into its biological composition or potential for the modern market, and there was a “huge variety” of karengo to explore.

Dr. Wheeler said there were hundreds of native seaweed species growing around New Zealand coasts. He said with more research, there was potential for New Zealand to farm some species and create a valuable export product. “We don’t want to create another nori, we want to create a unique product that comes from New Zealand … with unique attributes, not just taste but also in health benefits.”

He said it was likely that karengo would be developed into a supplement.

Dr. Tom Wheeler hopes his research on karengo could unlock high value nutritional secrets from New Zealand’s native seaweed. Photo: Cawthron Institute

“Our thinking is deliberately flexible because you have to be responsive to what you find … if we can show it has unique attributes, you could see it being in all sorts of foods.”

He said the aim over the two years of study was to firstly determine which species of karengo had the most promising “bioactivities” which could have anti-inflammatory properties.

“The historical approach for the development of industry in New Zealand has been to start with a low value commodity and over time realize its potential and seek to move up the value chain,” he said. “This investigation is about identifying the opportunity for new high-end products that support human health from the get-go.”

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