Kombu is one of the primary ingredients of Japanese cuisine.

Gareth May writes in munchies.vice.com that seaweed could significantly help feed our planet’s rapidly growing population. The East already eats it and The West will be eating it knowingly in the next 10 years, he says. Seaweed is a massively underutilized resource and is, according to Dr. Craig Rose, the founder of the Seaweed Health Foundation, “without a doubt, the future food.”

Says Dr. Rose, for the individual, the benefits of regular seaweed consumption are clear to see. “Seaweed is the ultimate super food. Nothing compares, gram for gram, to the nutritional content of seaweeds. The benefits extend beyond just nutrition to salt replacement and weight management.”

Rose says the health attributes of seaweed are so broad, that research is showing benefit for heart health, diabetes and anti-cancer applications. Only last week, the British Journal of Nutrition published a study showing that seaweed supplements could be an effective alternative for women suffering from iodine deficiency. Before that, seaweed as a potential salt replacement was featured in the Research Council UK’s Big Ideas of the Future document.

Around the world the seaweed industry has become big business. China grows huge amounts for extract industries (alginates) used for thickening foods and things like ice cream and toothpaste. Japan grows massive quantities of nori seaweed that is used for sushi, but they also eat many other species, too. In fact, one of the most staple ingredients of Japanese cuisine, dashi, the fish and seaweed stock that is used as the base for everything from miso soup to salad dressings, is made from kombu – over 90 percent of which is cultivated.

Carrageenan seaweed farming has grown significantly in the Philippines, Indonesia and Tanzania in the last two decades due to the simple farming techniques easily learned, and the low requirement of start up capital.

Bangladesh has 480 km of coastline and 25,000 km² of coastal area that contains 133 species of seaweed – eight of which are commercially sought-after. The potential for seaweed farming and all its peripheral benefits are huge. The locals just need to be pointed in the right direction.

Two years ago, the Coastal Association for Social Transformation Trust (COAST) in Bangladesh provided technical support and funding for a seaweed cultivation pilot scheme in the east coast region of Bangladesh. A subsequent survey revealed that the 180 seaweed farmers taking part in the scheme produced an average of 35 tons of seaweed in the first year. However, the following year, the average went up to 405 tons and totaled 54,675 tons from all the farmers on the scheme. That’s a net profit increase of approximately 345 per cent.