Seaweed in the wild West

Seaweed has recently emerged in the western public consciousness as a prized nutritional and culinary resource, bringing us in line with the long-held views of our Eastern counterparts. While it may seem like a modern culinary and wellness trend, the history of eating seaweed in the West actually dates back centuries. In this blog post, we will delve into the intriguing journey of seaweed consumption, exploring how it evolved from a survival necessity to a culinary delicacy, and how its rich cultural significance contributed to its popularity in the West.

Seaweed harvesting in the west

Seaweed in the West: Ancient Roots

The consumption of seaweed in the Western world can be traced back to ancient times. Coastal communities in Europe, such as the Celts and Vikings, were well-acquainted with the potential of seaweed as a valuable resource. Early records indicate that they used various species of seaweed for sustenance, especially during times of food scarcity. Seaweed’s abundance along the coastlines made it an accessible source of sustenance, rich in essential nutrients and minerals.

Seaweed in Traditional Medicine and Folklore

As civilisations advanced, seaweed found its place in traditional medicine and folklore. In medieval Europe, it was believed that seaweed possessed mystical healing properties. It was used in medicinal potions to treat ailments ranging from skin conditions to digestive disorders. Moreover, the presence of iodine in certain seaweed species played a crucial role in preventing and treating goiter, a condition caused by iodine deficiency.

Seaweed as a Fertiliser

Beyond its role in nutrition and medicine, seaweed also played a vital role in agriculture. In the 18th and 19th centuries, seaweed was utilised as a natural fertiliser to enrich soil in coastal regions. Farmers recognised its high mineral content, which significantly improved both crop hardiness and yield. This practice was particularly prevalent in Ireland and Scotland, where seaweed gathering and application became ingrained in local culture.

The Advent of Seaweed-Based Products

The 20th century marked a turning point in the consumption of seaweed in the West. As societies became more industrialised, the demand for processed food products increased. Seaweed became a valuable ingredient in the production of various food additives, such as thickeners and stabilisers. The extraction of carrageenan from certain seaweed species became commercially significant, revolutionising the food industry’s capacity to produce products with desirable textures.

The Rise of Seaweed in Culinary Culture

In the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st century, seaweed transcended its humble origins to become a prominent feature in Western culinary culture. As global travel and cultural exchange intensified, Western chefs began to experiment with seaweed, inspired by Asian culinary traditions where seaweed had long been cherished. The popularity of sushi and other Japanese dishes in the West significantly contributed to the mainstream acceptance of seaweed as a food ingredient. With an array of flavours and textures, different types of seaweed began appearing in salads, soups, and even as garnishes in high-end restaurants.

Seaweed as a Superfood

In recent decades, a growing health-conscious trend has further boosted the consumption of seaweed in the West. Seaweed is now widely regarded as a superfood due to its impressive nutritional profile. Rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids, seaweed offers numerous health benefits, including supporting thyroid function, promoting heart health, and boosting the immune system.

Sustainability and Environmental Concerns

As the popularity of seaweed consumption continues to rise, so does the importance of ensuring its sustainability. Excessive harvesting can lead to ecological imbalances, impacting marine ecosystems and coastal communities. This is why we take our sustainable harvesting practices seriously at Lofoten Seaweed. It’s vital that the growing seaweed industry is scalable, and can realise its full potential of providing sustainable solutions to global problems. We cannot utilise our oceans with the same hunter/gatherer mentality that we have used on land – it has to be a symbiotic relationship of foraging and replenishment.


The history of eating seaweed in the West is a tale of evolution, from its ancient roots as a survival food to its current status as a culinary delicacy and superfood. From humble beginnings as a nutrient-rich marine plant, seaweed has undergone a transformative journey, entwining itself into the cultural fabric of the Western world. As we move forward, it is crucial to appreciate the historical significance of seaweed consumption while also adopting sustainable practices to preserve this resource for generations to come.