What products are made from seaweed?

Written by carolyn csanyi
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What products are made from seaweed?
Sushi is wrapped in seaweed. (sushi image by Maryna Girard from Fotolia.com)

Hidden under the ocean are large quantities of plant life called seaweed. There are many different kinds that have been used for food, fertiliser, medicines and animal feed since ancient times. In the 20th century, emphasis has shifted from using whole seaweed to using the different molecules that they contain. Seaweed is more present in everyday life than might be thought.

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Food

Seaweed is prevalent in Asian dishes. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in Japan, as of 1973, about 654,000 tons wet weight of seaweed was eaten each year. Sushi is wrapped with it, and bird's nest soup is made from regurgitated seaweed in bird saliva that glues nests to cliffs. Carrageenan extracted from red seaweed is a thickening agent used in puddings, chocolate milk, chewing gum, jams and jellies. Algin or alginates from brown seaweed and agar from red seaweed are widely used in bakery products, candies, dairy products, salad dressings, ice creams and creams and jellies, as well as in processing meats, sausages and fish and in clarifying beers and wines.

What products are made from seaweed?
Carrageenan from red seaweed is used to thicken chocolate milk. (glass of chocolate milk image by Milan Kapasi from Fotolia.com)

Pharmaceuticals

Carrageenan and algins are used in pharmaceuticals as binders, stabilisers, emulsifiers and for creating moulds. The dental industry also uses them in moulding preparations. Alginates provide controlled release to oral solid medications, gastric reflux control, thickening and stabilisation to oral liquids such as cough medicine as well as being used in wound care.

What products are made from seaweed?
Alginates from seaweed thickens cough medicine. (measuring cough medicine image by Larry Allen from Fotolia.com)

Science

Agar, derived from the cell walls of some red algae, has been a mainstay of bacteriological investigations since 1900, according to Christopher Lobban in "The Biology of Seaweeds." Bacteria are plated onto agar preparations in petri dishes or test tubes and cultured for study.

What products are made from seaweed?
Agar is used to culture bacteria for research and study. (Bacteria Colonies image by ggw from Fotolia.com)

Cosmetics

Whole seaweed is milled and added to bath water as a skin treatment. Crushed seaweed or seaweed paste is added to a large variety of preparations such as facial masks, body gels, creams and shampoos. Carrageenans are used in toothpastes, shampoos, hair conditioners, shaving products and skin cleaners. Alginates are added to many kinds of cosmetics.

What products are made from seaweed?
Seaweed can be used in facial masks. (facial mask image by sasha from Fotolia.com)

Fertilisers

Seaweed can be applied whole to garden soil. It can also be dried and ground into fertiliser meal or processed and made into seaweed extract, which is then diluted for use. Seaweed fertiliser adds trace elements as well as plant nutrients like potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus. Whole or dried seaweed also adds organic matter.

What products are made from seaweed?
Seaweed washed ashore has been used as fertiliser for centuries. (seaweed ashore image by FotoWorx from Fotolia.com)

Industrial Products

Algins are present in a wide variety of products, including paints, pigments, dyes and other finishes. They are used in fibre manufacture such as paper, cardboard, filters and textiles. Charcoal briquettes are bound together with them. Algins are present in explosives, pesticides and fire retardants, including fire extinguishers.

What products are made from seaweed?
Charcoal briquettes are shaped by using algins from brown seaweed as binders. (charcoal on fire image by jedphoto from Fotolia.com)

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