Kelp is a type of seaweed that grows in “underwater forests” and is packed with nutrients. It’s nutritious, abundant, and could even help to fight disease and pollution.
In this guide, we’ll help you to discover some of the miraculous benefits of this amazing substance.
What is Kelp?
Kelp is a type of brown algae that grows underwater in shallow oceans. It is thought to date back to the Miocene period, which means it could be over 20 million years old.
Kelp grows fast, with some types growing as quickly as half a meter in a single day and spanning up to 260 feet at maturity. It is edible and can be cooked or eaten raw. It is also added to supplements and used as a flavoring.
What are the Types of Kelp?
There are many types of kelp and these can be found in varying quantities all over the world. Some of the most common varieties include:
Bull Kelp (nereocystis luetkeana)
The official name for bull kelp is “nereocystis luetkeana”, which comes from the Greek meaning “mermaid’s bladder”. It is also known as “bladder wrack” and “bullwhip kelp”. It has a history of being used to make fishing nets and can be found on the Pacific coast of North America.
Kombu (saccharina japonica)
Kombu is a kelp species commonly found in Japan, where it is cultivated in large quantities.
Giant Kelp (macrocystis pyrifera)
Giant kelp is the largest species of kelp and grows from Baja California to southeast Alaska, as well as parts of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and South America.
What are Kelp Forests?
Sea kelp forests are underwater “forests” where kelp grows in large quantities.
Kelp forests can span hundreds and even thousands of square kilometers and help to support a variety of marine life.
Kelp forests have experienced considerable and catastrophic change over the last few years—one of the many victims of climate change.
It began with a marine heatwave that facilitated the spread of a sea star wasting disease. It all but eradicated the population of starfish that lived in the kelp forests and helped to control the population of purple sea urchins.
Without the starfish, the sea urchins spread, feasting on the kelp until very little remained.
It is now thought that just 5% of Northern California’s kelp forest remains, and the situation is just as bleak as well.
Where are Kelp Forests?
Kelp forests can be found all over the world, where they thrive in coastal areas. Some of the biggest are located in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Norway. In fact, the Norwegian coast is home to kelp forests that span nearly around 3,500 square miles.
Kelp forests play an important role in the global ecosystem. Not only do they provide sustenance for millions of marine animals but they also store over 170 million tons of carbon every single year.
Where in the United States are Kelp Forests Found?
Kelp forests can be found along the coast of California, and in particular within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and the Channel Islands National Park. There are nine species of kelp here and giant kelp is the most abundant.
What Things Eat Kelp?
Kelp is consumed by many different fish species, as well as crabs, sea urchins, abalone, and snails. They thrive in kelp forests all over the world, and the rapid growth rate ensures that these species have a steady supply of food.
The kelp forest ecosystem stretches far beyond fish and invertebrates—it supports thousands of animals.
For instance, abalone eat large quantities of kelp and sea otters eat abalone. Although the sea otters don’t rely on kelp, they probably couldn’t survive without it.
In addition to providing marine animals with a food source, kelp forests provide protection and a home for many species.
What is the Difference Between Seaweed and Kelp?
Kelp is a type of seaweed, but not all seaweed is kelp.
The term “seaweed” is used to describe a variety of different marine-based species of algae and plants, including kelp, which is a type of brown algae.
It’s not just sea urchins and fish that can benefit from eating kelp. Humans can also eat it, and it’s consumed all over the world. In fact, kelp consumption seems to be on the rise as more people are made aware of the potential health benefits of this nutrient-rich foodstuff.
A single 1 ounce serving of dried kelp contains around 70 calories, 5 grams of protein, and just 1 gram of fiber (most of the calories come from carbohydrates). It is a great source of calcium, vitamin K, iron, iodine, folate, and magnesium.
It’s considered to be one of the best natural sources of iodine, low levels of which can cause thyroid and metabolism issues.
Kelp is also loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds and could help in the fight against cancer, joint disease, and heart disease. Of course, the same could be said for most natural foodstuffs that are high in vitamins and minerals, and it doesn’t mean that a sprinkling of kelp can offset years of smoking and heavy drinking, but it’s still impressive for such a cheap and abundant substance.
Kelp is added to an array of food products and supplements. It’s often touted as a superfood but is also praised for its unique salty and savory flavors. It is often said to have similar characteristics to bacon, although that’s a bit of a stretch.
Summary: Sea Kelp Forests, Nutrition, and Kelp Types
As you can see, sea kelp is pretty amazing. This brown algae helps to support sea life all over the world and is also a nutrient-rich food source for humans. It grows quickly, can reach hundreds of feet tall, and plays an essential role in coastal ecosystems from California to Japan.
Unfortunately, certain fishing practices, in combination with climate change, is drastically reducing the size of kelp forests all over the world. It’s a substance that has been around for millions of years but is rapidly dwindling, and that’s bad news for every single one of us.