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Seaweed: The next big food crop?

CBS News – September 17, 2014

Most Americans don’t think of seaweed as having any redeeming value, but that could be changing — as scientists consider ways of turning even the most unattractive seaweeds into attractive items on the dinner plate, and the national menu.

There’s a long global history of seaweed as a valuable agricultural crop. Coastal farmers in Europe and Asia have traditionally gathered seaweed to helpfertilize their fields and feed their livestock. It’s also used in some cosmetics and beauty creams.

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization says up to $6 billion worth of seaweed is harvested commercially each year.

And many Americans, whether they know it or not, consume seaweed on a regular basis — as a thickening agent in some brands of ice cream and, of course, as a wrapping in sushi.

Scientists also note that, as the world’s population rises and more pressure is being put on the agricultural sector, countries and companies need to consider the role of seaweed — which has a lot of nutritional value — as a growing food crop.

In fact, researchers from Texas A&M Galveston are doing just that, as they examine ways to manage and cultivate the Gulf Coast’s huge quantities of brown Sargassum seaweed.

“The challenge is just making (the seaweed) to where it is palatable,” Robert Webster, a Texas A&M Galveston PhD candidate and researcher studying Sargassum uses, tells CBS affiliate KHOU-TV.

For most Americans, Sargassum doesn’t have a very good reputation to begin with. It decomposes by the ton on many of the nation’s beaches, and stinks in the process. It also has high amounts of iodine, which can be a health hazard.

But the Texas A&M researchers say Sargassum is high in iron and calcium, and Webster’s team is working on ways to remove the iodine from the seaweed.

And while the study is taking time and any concrete results may be far off, the researchers still see a lot of potential.

Read more from the source: cbsnews.com