People may claim to love kale now, but the super food wasn’t always a staple among health-conscious foodies. In fact, there was a time when people thought kale was just a bitter garnish that decorated bowls of creamy salad bar concoctions.
Recently, another overlooked food is being deemed the new kale. Meet kelp, a type of seaweed that’s popping up in the form of jerky and pickles. Seaweed is already popular in Asian cuisine, but kelp isn’t exactly common fare for most Americans. So why are we hearing about it now? Here’s what you should know:
When did the kelp craze begin?
There isn’t a single event that propelled the craze for kelp. Although it seems like people started talking about kelp just yesterday, enthusiasm for the algae has steadily grown over the past few years. In 2015, British Chef Jamie Oliver said eating kelp, and other low-calorie but nutritious foods, helped him shed nearly 30 pounds, reported The Telegraph.
Last year, seaweed farmers declared that “Kelp is the new kale,” and would be the latest food craze. Now, the food is becoming mainstream as images of kelp jerky begin to infiltrate Instagram.
How do you eat kelp?
You can find kelp pickles and jerky, but Melanie Boehmer, R.D. at Lenox Hill Hospital, recommends eating the food in its natural form.
“If you visit an Asian market, there is a chance you may be able to find some fresh varieties to experiment with,” she says. “Think of kelp as more of a condiment than a main dish. Too much kelp or seaweed can contribute to toxic levels of minerals.”
She also warns that kelp may absorb dangerous heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead. Look for certified organic versions that have been tested for arsenic.
You can serve alongside seafood or use it as a salad or soup topping.
Ok, but is kelp really the new kale?
That might be an overstatement, but there are plenty of reasons to eat kelp, says Boehmer.
Kelp is high in antioxidants, like vitamin C, minerals such as manganese, and zinc. These are important because they help lower oxidative stress and can improve heart health, she tells Men’s Health. Some even claim that seaweed can prevent chronic disease like cancer, but that is not proven.
Plus it offers different nutrients than what you’d find in land vegetables.
“Kelp absorbs a great deal of minerals from sea water and sea soil in which it grows. It’s especially concentrated in iodine, which is important for optimal thyroid function and metabolism,” Boehmer says.
It’s also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, making it a great choice for people who don’t eat fish.
“I don’t believe it’s a ‘superfood’ because in general there is no one single magical food,” says Boehmer. “It is rich in minerals and fiber, and can serve as a tasty and unique compliment to green leafy veggies in your diet.”