LOCAL waters could become a world food bowl as scientists look to harvest nutritionally rich seaweed.
Deakin University marine biologist Alecia Bellgrove said tasting trials of locally harvested seaweed were set to start in Warnambool on August 9.
The seaweed would be compared in blind trials with Asian-grown seaweed, Dr Bellgrove said.
If the taste, texture and nutritional value of the seaweed compared favourably with its competitors, southwest Victoria was well-placed to become a leading seaweed producer, as traditional growing areas in Japan had been affected by natural and nuclear disasters, she said.
Our pristine waters had the greatest diversity of seaweed species in the world and were a veritable Garden of Eden for sea vegetables, Dr Bellgrove said.
Seaweed was a nutritional powerhouse, packed full of vitamins, minerals, protein and omega-three long-chain fatty acids, making it an important food source.
It was also linked with reduced cardiovascular stress and heart disease, lower incidence of diabetes and obesity, and better brain development, she said.
“Much of the Australian population is iodine and zinc deficient and that comes back to the fact that our soils are poor in those two elements and therefore our ground vegetable sources are also low in them,” Dr Bellgrove said.
“However, our oceans are rich in minerals and therefore seaweed, which is basically a sea vegetable, is high in a whole range of important trace minerals and vitamins. Another environmental benefit is that they are plants and, like trees drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, there’s a lot of evidence suggesting farming seaweeds in the ocean can be really important for decreasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels as part of a climate change solution.”
It was important the seaweed was farmed for consumption on a commercial scale rather than removed from the wild, she stressed.
Besides being used in the production of sushi rolls and in Asian salads and cooking, it was possible seaweed could be included in Western dishes such as pasta and biscuits to deliver health benefits to those who did not routinely eat Asian food, Dr Bellgrove said.
Australian seaweed was already being harvested commercially albeit on a small scale in Tasmania and sold to Japanese restaurants, she said.
Dr Bellgrove said her interest in harvesting local seaweed was a result of years spent living in Japan and a desire to make sure the food being eaten by Australian families was as healthy and free from toxins as possible.
While she now lived in Warnambool with her husband and children, the family still ate a lot of seaweed, she said.
“As a parent, I want to know that the food which my children are eating is clean and healthy and free from pollutants,” Dr Bellgrove said.
“I also want to know that it’s rich in the vitamins and minerals that they need.”
High in vitamins and minerals.
High in protein and omega three long-chain fatty acids.
Low in kilojoules.
Lowers heart disease, diabetes and obesity risks.
Boosts brain development in children.
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