It’s tasty, has kooky names like wakame and hijiki, and comes is varieties up to several metres long: it’s algae, and it’s sweeping the world.
“Demand has risen in recent years,” confirms Antje Gahl from the German Society for Nutrition.
Algae absorbs nutrients like a sponge. Certain varieties are therefore known for being high in protein, calcium, vitamin C, iron and even omega-3 fatty acids. Is algae the next superfood?
Gahl points out: “That depends on the amounts consumed.” The nutrient level in most algae is low and the portions are usually small. They are generally seen as a supplement to a diet.
Some algae are also burdened with heavy metals such as lead, cadmium or aluminium, as the German Institute for Risk Assessment has found. So, algae doesn’t only absorb the good nutrients from the water, but also everything else.
And then there is the iodine level. The amount of iodine in algae can differ greatly, according to the German Institute for Risk Assessment, ranging from 5 to 11,000 milligrams per kilogram of dry weight.
Iodine is used by the thyroid gland to produce hormones. These in turn influence the metabolism, bone formation and the development of the brain. Both too little and too much iodine can affect how the thyroid gland functions.
People with thyroid problems should therefore consume algae with caution, warns Gahl. In general, it is advisable to only eat algae where the iodine content is clearly indicated.
Most varieties of algae are dried. Before you can cook with them, they need to be soaked for between a few minutes and several hours, explains cookbook author Lisette Kreischer.
Her favourite is the kombu, which she uses to make soup or pesto. When she’s feeling more adventurous, Kreischer makes algae bread or pancakes, mixes up a sea aioli or serves wild rice salad with hijiki. She is convinced: “The trend is just beginning.” – dpa/Jan-Nikolas Picker