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Seaweed “superfood” could help ease global food crisis

Edible seaweed is a superfood that contains a large variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Now scientists at Tel Aviv University are exploring ways to enrich seaweed and use it as a global, sustainable food crop. 

Led by PhD student Doron Ashkenazi, the team has been carrying out research on a local algae, Ulva gracilaria. The researchers are growing the seaweed near fish farming operations where it becomes “enriched” and especially nutritious. 

“Seaweed can be regarded as a natural superfood, more abundant in the necessary components of the human diet than other food sources,” said Ashkenazi. “Through the technological approach we developed, a farm owner or entrepreneur will be able to plan in advance a production line of seaweed rich in the substances in which they are interested, which can be used as health foods or nutritional supplements; for example, seaweed with a particularly high level of protein, seaweed rich in minerals such as iron, iodine, calcium, magnesium, and zinc, or in special pigments or antioxidants.” 

“The enriched seaweed can be used to help populations suffering from malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies, for example disadvantaged populations around the world, as well as supplements to a vegetarian or vegan diet.”

Seaweed farming has advantages over traditional crops when it comes to growing as well. Unlike most agriculture, the aquaculture of seaweed requires no large amounts of land and no freshwater inputs. Seaweed grown near coasts also acts as a buffer, reducing nutrient loading, often due to fertilizer runoff. 

Overall, seaweed is a “green” crop that lowers greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, it could be the perfect crop to feed a growing world population in a time of environmental crises. 

“Technologies of this type are undoubtedly a model for a better future for humanity, a future where humans live in idyll and in health in their environment,” said Ashkenazi.

This research was published in the journal Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies.

By Erin Moody , Staff Writer

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