Something's Fishy. Why Are Australians Eating More Seaweed All Of A Sudden?

From sushi to crackers, we're swimming in the stuff.

Yes, a study from the University of the Sunshine Coast has found that we're eating more seaweed than we used to, and that crackers and sushi are slowly turning the tide.

Can we get any more sea-based puns in here? That remains to be sea-n.

The study published in the Journal of International Food and Agribusiness Marketing found that more and more of us are going mad for a seaweed snack or a cracker.

But we are a bit slower to get to grips with seaweed-based main meals, like soups or smoothies or salads.

Business researcher and lead author of the study Associate Professor Dawn Birch said Australia is very much an emerging market in the seaweed section of the global snack industry, which was set to be worth $635 billion in 2020.

That's a lot of seaweed right there.

We're all getting by with a little kelp from our friends, it seems. Hahah.

So how come we're all suddenly chowing down on the underwater edibles?

"Generally there is a global trend towards eating more seaweed in western society, although Australia isn't as far ahead as the UK or western Europe," Professor Birch told 10 daily.

"Also it's been featured on more cooking shows -- Jamie Oliver recently featured it on his show, for example. There are also more seaweed cookbooks, it's appearing on menus at restaurants, and the Australian consumer is being exposed to it more and more."

And of course, we're eating more and more sushi.

According to Professor Birch, it's actually well-educated females under 35 years old who were the most likely to try new seaweed products, mostly because they're more adventurous with the foods they eat as well as more health conscious.

But for some, seaweed is still a step too far.

"People's dietary habits change quite slowly and about a third of consumers are what we call neophobic -- they don't like to try new things."

"Some people also have a high disgust factor about what they consider isn't 'normal' food," she added.

That is unless you're talking snack foods. "Females are reporting eating more, but the snacking on seaweed snacks and rice crackers is spread more evenly across the genders," she told 10 daily.

Speaking of disgust -- those smoothies we mentioned at the start sound pretty gross to us. What seaweed based product turns Professor Birch's stomach?

"I do have quite an adventurous palate but there are certain things I don't get -- like seaweed jellies and lollies and things. And I have found that there is someone who makes wine from seaweed..."

OK so we may not go as far as drinking the stuff, but why should we eat it?

"Jamie Oliver refers to it as the most nutritious vegetable in the world," said Professor Birch. "It's absolutely packed with micronutrients and antioxidants, and apart from being good for your health, it's also very environmentally sustainable and friendly.

"Seaweed doesn't need to be fed, it's sea-based rather than land based, so it doesn't have the associated environmental impacts (some species even improve the environment they're grown in), and it's also quite a good alternative source of protein -- some species, like Nori are quite high in protein in fact."

Of course, you can often get too much of a good thing -- so can you eat too much seaweed?

"Some people suggest you can over-consume it -- because of iodine levels which can affect your thyroid, for example," said Professor Birch. "But there is no harm in moderation. The amount of seaweed we consume is never going to lead to problems anyway  -- you'd need to eat large quantities!"

And for the uninitiated, what kinds of seaweeds are there? Let us, er, kelp you out with a few...
  • Dulse -- a red seaweed that has a soft, chewy texture
  • Kelp -- a brown/green seaweed  usually added to a dish during cooking, or soaked in water to soften before eating
  • Nori -- a dry, brittle sheet of seaweed used for rolling sushi
  • Wakame -- small dehydrated pieces of seaweed typically used in miso soup and Japanese seaweed salad
  • Arame -- another species of kelp, has a mildly sweet flavour and firm texture, that makes it an appealing addition to many dishes -- even baked goods

Feature image: Getty