Why the First-Ever Seaweed Festival in North America Is Important for Eaters Everywhere
Step away from the lobster roll. This spring, restaurants across Maine will be serving up special dishes featuring what could be the next big food in Maine and across the nation: seaweed. There will be beer brewed with seaweed, tea made with seaweed, pizza with seaweed, and maybe even ice cream with seaweed. In all, more than 50 chefs, brewers, and mixologists from restaurants, breweries and bars in Maine and New Hampshire will create special food and drinks items for North America's first ever Seaweed Week (April 26 to May 4), which coincides with kelp harvest season.
It's part of an effort to raise awareness about the health and environmental benefits of sea greens and support Maine's growing seaweed industry. "Seaweed checks all the boxes: it's sustainable, nutritious, and tasty," says Josh Rogers, the founder of Seaweed Week. "It's one of those intriguing foods that people are curious about, and we're seeing increasing numbers of chefs and product developers experimenting with."
Rogers, who grew up in Maine, was first introduced to eating seaweed as a child when he sampled dulse during summers spent with his grandparents. He moved back to Maine a couple of years ago and founded Cup of Sea, a tea company whose herbal and caffeinated blends incorporate Maine seaweed. He's also opened Heritage Seaweed, a retail store that sells a curated collection of seaweed-focused goods (including the photographs of Josie Iselin).
A decade ago, seaweed food and drink products were virtually non-existent and there was no such thing as a seaweed farming industry in the United States. But in the past few years we've seen seaweed appear in snack foods and increasingly on restaurant menus. Whole Foods named seaweed one of the 2019 food trends to watch. Maine is leading the way with seaweed, it's home to more seaweed farms than anywhere else in the country, many started by lobstermen and women looking for work during their offseason.
Rich in nutrients including iodine, potassium, iron amino acids, omega-3 fats, and fiber, we know that seaweed is good for you, but it's also good for the environment. Seaweed farms create a halo effect, absorbing excess nutrients and carbon dioxide and helping to improve water quality. "Seaweed is a zero-input crop that requires no fresh water, no soil, no fertilizer and no pesticides," says Rogers.
Rogers and the Seaweed Week organizers, who include various state partners plus seaweed farmers, wild harvesters, and producers, hope the festival will help grow the market for seaweed by showcasing businesses who are already using seaweed, such as Eventide Oyster Co. and Marshall Wharf Brewing, and inspiring others to start. Throughout the week there will seaweed products for sale and also be tours of kelp farms, cooking demonstrations, and other events.