Food and other products from Seaweed have an abundance of benefits

TARI Faroe Seaweed produces high quality seaweed in the clean and nutrient rich seawater surrounding the Faroe Islands. The company offers high-end food products for end users, as well as larger quantities for business to business.

TARI has their seaweed farm on Kaldbaksfjord, where they at the moment cultivate two species of brown seaweed including the raw material for the Ocean Wings product.

The other ingredients for Ocean Spaghetti, Ocean Purple and Ocean Palm are all based on raw material collected sustainably from natural populations. TARI’s Ocean products are easy to use in everyday cooking, they can replace salt and ad unique Umami taste.

The company is part of the EU funded SW-Grow project for the Arctic and Northern Region. For more information about the meaning and economic data of SW farming, check the cordis website (within the Horizon 2020 initiative) to read more about the goals and value chains the EU wants to build up, in order to fulfil unmet demand for high-quality food products from seaweed.

But let’s move back to the Faroe Islands. To learn more about the species and their economic and health relevance, Agnes Mols Mortensen — co-owner of TARI and Macroalgal biologist — is the best possible address.

Agnes, what are the challenges when farming seaweed?

Our focus lies on quality and sustainability of the Seaweed product. Cultivating and farming Seaweed for food is not yet so established in our part of the world, whereas harvesting seafood from natural populations is already an acknowledged industry.

The quality of the material depends on the area — seas must have the right temperature —cold in case of the big brown algae — and the salinity must be high. We have that in the Faroe Islands.

Nutrient, especially nitrate, and light availability are also critical. Farming in Fjords requires a focus on the concentration of nutrients — there is always an exchange of nutrients coming in from the Faroe shelf, but the availability varies with season. We deploy seeded seaweed ropes in late autumn or winter, when nutrient levels are high. When the days starts getting longer in early spring the tiny seaweeds start growing, and we already harvest in late May or early June to get the very best quality. Thorough research in the field of algae, in the ecology of the farm site as well as in the hatchery methods is the basis for TARI and their business model.

What effects on Seaweed farming might occur through climate change:

Temperature is a critical for macroalgae to be able to go through their different life stages. Warming of the oceans can definitely impact the ability of some species to survive in different areas. The conditions in the FI are stable regarding the temperature limits of the species we cultivate so far — but with shifting temperature conditions there can be unforeseen consequences; perhaps bigger problems with biofouling on the seaweed crop that farming methodology needs to adapt to.

The Faroe Islands is one of the fortunately positioned areas in the world as long as the large currents keep flowing.

Our company wants to grow seaweed sustainably, within the boundaries of the ecosystem. In order to do so we need to understand and know the ecosystem and the mechanisms in the local area. The farm site is made up by artificial structures, and supports growth of seaweed where it is naturally not growing. Such activities will always have an impact on the natural environment, and developing good farm practice is crucial for a sustainable development of the seaweed cultivation industry. Resting periods after harvest, as they do in the salmon aquaculture, and early harvest of the crop will probably be some of the key elements in sustainably run farms because those practices will minimize the organic input to the surrounding environment. As the seaweed cultivation industry is growing and the farms will be run more intensively, such practices will become very important also as a way to control potential out brakes of diseases.

But lately we started to use seaweed as a structure for the cages in which the salmon is grown: Lumpfish shelters made of seaweed are now used in Faroese salmon aquaculture to improve animal welfare for the lumpfish in the salmon cages. Lumpfish are used as cleaner fish in the salmon aquaculture, and they need shelters to thrive in the cages. Lumpfish shelters have become an interesting new business model for us to use our knowledge of growing seaweed for the improvement of salmon aquaculture, and we work closely together with the salmon industry.

The Products, their taste and health effects:

We have 4 products on sale for seasoning and cooking: these are finished products in bags that we use to PR the seaweed products to a wider community. We sell these seasoning bags to consumers for cooking to familiarize them with the product. Seaweed is a great seasoning, and it can be used as a salt to put on the table (finger salt).

Recipes can be downloaded from our website, and the seaweed bags make nice little presents. They add to the flavours (like a natural glutamate) — I do a fish dish with our Ocean Wings, by covering the fish with a thin layer, and it is awesome. Seaweed is a natural replacement for salt.

However, the strongest proven health effect at this point is achieved through the fibers of the seaweed. As we generally don’t eat enough fibers, seaweed is great for a better digestion. Seaweed also has many vitamins and minerals, it can reduce salt intake, and it also has anti-inflammatory effects.

What are your plans for the future?

We hope to expand TARI with a viable and profitable business model — presently we are just 2 people, my brother and me. Our plan is to continue developing both directions of our business, both the high-quality food and ingredient production, and also the lumpfish shelters to the salmon aquaculture. High quality and sustainable production is important to us, and we hope to see our seaweeds used as ingredients in a variety of products.

What about the ability of Seaweed to absorb carbon from the atmosphere?

Through photosynthesis seaweeds take up CO2 from the environment just like land plants do, and with increased seaweed cultivation more CO2 can be absorbed. Research is looking into the carbon sequestration potential of seaweeds, and there is a push for a carbon credit exchange market for seaweed. Weather the produced seaweed can function as long-term carbon storage depends on the utilization of the produced biomass. If it is used and broken down biologically then the carbon will be released again. If it is somehow taken out of of the biological circle e.g. buried very deep in the sediments without undergoing biological breakdown then it can in theory function as a long term carbon storage. When we produce seaweed as a raw material for food and other purposes, it does not function as a long term carbon storage, but it is still a biomass that is possible to produce in a carbon neutral manner – a raw material with very low carbon footprint. I think that is important, and if less sustainable raw material can be replaced with seaweed in a wide variety of products then that is a really good situation.

All pictures courtesy of @Tari Seaweed

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