13 Feb 2018 --- Long established in the supplements sector, nutrient-dense vegetables from the sea, such as kelp and spirulina, have been finding their way into a wider variety of new food and beverage products, due to their ability to provide nutritional fortification, act as a natural source of color and deliver unique flavors, especially umami. But do kelp or other seaweed varieties have the potential to be the new kale?
Currently trending in the restaurant sector, we expect sea greens to continue to offer innovation opportunities. The industry is looking back towards the sea as a source of ingredients and more holistic nutrition inspiration.
Beyond the seafood category itself, there is strong innovation across the board, with sea vegetables particularly trending. Innova Market Insights reports +21 percent growth in new food and beverage launches featuring selected sea vegetables (2012-2016, global). These products include algae, dulse, kelp, kombu, wakame, arame, nori, Irish moss, sea vegetable and seaweed.
More recently, there has been a move in the way that consumers are now more accepting of using greens from the ocean. With more consumers actively seeking vegan or vegetarian lifestyles, there has been an interest in vegan “seafood” dishes, in the form of sea vegetables, which come under the umbrella of kelp, seaweed or algae.Click to Enlarge
Seaweed, with its many varieties, has tipped to become the next super green and, according to some, already has the title. It’s finding new product applications in Western markets, due to its wide-ranging health benefits. Innova Market Insights trend forecast for 2018 highlighted “Ocean Garden” as a key trend, spurring innovation in seaweed-based snacks and NPD in the Western world, stepping away from traditionally being used in Asian cuisines.
CBC food columnist Gail Johnson believes that kelp has the potential to be the next kale. “Sea greens are versatile, exciting ingredients and are a food trend that will continue to grow,” she said recently, in an interview with Gloria Macarenko for On The Coast.
Algae is loaded with nutrients and fall into the superfood category. Algae and seaweed's standout feature is the rich umami flavors that many consumers find appealing. Seaweed is emerging as a strong ingredient, where the salt reduction trend is creating potential.
“It can be hard to describe, but it's a pleasant, savory, rich almost meaty flavor, with that umami kelp and other seaweeds act as a flavor enhancer,” says Johnson.
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Commenting on the trend of charcuterie specialties from the sea, Lu Ann Williams of Innova Market Insights notes: “This is all very chef-driven, but this is what usually starts off new trends. There are some nice examples of sea specialties being used in a new and different way.”
Continuing to trend in the restaurant sector, the market researcher expects sea greens to offer further opportunities for innovation. “We’re seeing them being used across a lot of different categories, such as snack and beverages, as well as seasonings,” Williams remarks. “This is something that would have been absolutely confined to the natural channel, but now these things are moving more and more mainstream.”
Though seaweed cultivation has been around for decades, the challenge for today’s burgeoning industry is to keep pace with demand for the fast-growing and nutrient-rich algae that is being included in new product innovations across the food, supplement, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and animal feed segments.
The nutritional potential of seaweed extracts is also entering a new phase. “Seaweed has been used in Asian markets for centuries for its healing properties, where it is being used in supplements, cosmetics and functional foods. But it is growing quite a lot in America and Europe, especially in supplements and in immune, joint health and anti-cancer applications,” Claire Smoorenburg, of fucoidan ingredients supplier Marinova explains. For centuries, fucoidan-containing seaweeds have been prized for their dietary and therapeutic properties. Their medicinal properties have been particularly well documented in Asian cultures, where seaweeds have been used to address health conditions that range from nausea, congestion and inflammation, through to abscesses and tumors.
The nutritional potential of seaweed-based ingredients and seafood byproducts still has plenty of way to go, but these fruits of the sea are still on the rise as healthy and flavorful ingredients across the board.
By Elizabeth Green