It grows in ‘forests’ in shallow, nutrient-rich coastal waters and is a common sight lying in twisted heaps on seashores around the world. Meet kelp, the world’s next superfood. Not convinced? We investigated the research into the benefits of kelp for human survival.

Let’s face facts: the world’s population is growing and growing, climate change threatens our future, fuel stocks are diminishing and food resources simply can’t keep up. Our backs are against the wall – solutions are needed. Could the sea provide the answer? And, in particular, kelp?

What is kelp?

Kelp is a type of large brown seaweed that grows in shallow, nutrient-rich saltwater off the shoreline around the world. It grows rapidly (up to half a metre a day and reaching 15 metres in length) and marine life thrives on the sea floor and between the waving stems, called stipes. When it washes up on the shore, it dries out, attracts flies and, frankly, starts to stink. It’s hard to imagine eating it…

What qualifies kelp as a superfood?

However, kelp is chock-full of nutrients. According to the US National Institutes of Health, ‘seaweed such as kelp is one of the best natural food sources of iodine, an essential component in thyroid hormone production.’ Thyroid malfunctions can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, muscle weakness and high cholesterol, and even serious medical conditions like goitre (swelling of the thyroid gland), heart palpitations and impaired memory. Iodine helps digestion, eases gastro-intestinal ulcers, improves metabolism, maintains healthy mineral levels, boosts the immune system, soothes the mucous lining of the digestive tract and respiratory system and may even help with weight management.

Kelp is also a rich source of polyphenols (anti-oxidants that help to fight dangerous free radicals), minerals such as cacium, potassium, iron, manganese, copper, zinc and magnesium, and vitamins A, B and D.

How to use kelp

Despite being consumed for centuries in Japan and China, ‘sea vegetables’ are under-utilised, says Patrick Mustain, Communications Manager at the international ocean conservation group Oceana, and a freelance health and science writer and digital media producer. In New York City, Chef David Santos is developing new ways to prepare sea vegetables. ‘Kelp leaves cut into strips make a perfect al dente noodle,’ reports Mustain. ‘Pickled kelp stems are crisp, flavourful and refreshing; kelp butter makes a unique but mild and rich spread; and a simple plate of kelp with a bit of sweet sesame dressing gives any fancy kale salad a run for its money.’ Kelp, it turns out, is delicious.

And wait, there’s more…

Not only is kelp good for humans, says Mustain, ‘kelp mitigates climate change by sequestering carbon, improves oceans by soaking up excess nitrogen and phosphorus and has potential as a valuable fertiliser and biofuel.’ Kelp is the fastest growing plant in the world and, as it needs no fresh water or land, it’s an extremely sustainable and economically viable source of food.

So, those tangled kelp forests so often featured in nature programmes could, it appears, be the environmentally friendly larders of the future.’ We look forward to it.

Acknowledgements & Photo credits

Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.


  1. Buettner, K. Kelp benefits: A health booster from the sea. Healthline. July 2015.
  2. Mustain, P. Move over, kale, the new super vegetable comes from the sea. Scientific American. July 2014.

Photo credits

  1. By Ewan Munro from London, UK (Sanxia Renjia, Fitzrovia, LondonUploaded by tm) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons