This is a guest post by Carol Harvey, Director of food/nutrition labeling and product development at Palate Works.
How do you get people to eat their kale, sweet potato, flax, quinoa or chia? Put them (the ingredients, that is) in a snack food. These are the new “sexy” (and hot selling) foods, and there were a ton of them at the Expo West trade show this year… literally.
Much of the intrigue comes from the dissemination (not always truthfully) of newly-acquired (or just newly “discovered”) nutrition highlights for these trending ingredients. There are plenty of other nutrient-rich ingredients out there, but it takes more than good nutrition to generate buzz.
Take seaweed. With a name like that, even thousands of years of culinary history across countless coastal regions worldwide, plus impressive nutrition, can’t perform marketing magic.
That’s where seaweed-based snacks come in.
While only a handful have washed up on our shores (mostly from Korea and Japan), these new products are gaining followers with their compelling texture, taste, nutrition and sustainability, despite a lack of good nutrition data and consistent serving sizes for displaying it (more on that later).
Here are a few of the more interesting examples from the show that go beyond simple roasted sheets of nori (aka laver):
1. Ocean Snack (aka Korean Foods) Seaweed Crisps with Almonds:
Two sheets of seasoned seaweed sandwiching a thin layer of almonds give this snack a little more pizzazz. Despite what’s shown on the label, calories, fat and sodium are comparable to other snack chips (but protein much higher) once you double the nutrition data. Per labeling regulations, a serving of snacks is 30g, not 15g (or 5g, as is shown on many seaweed snacks). And they forgot to get the fiber and vitamin C content in there… it should be fairly significant.
2. Ocean’s Halo Seaweed Chip:
This hybrid chip in a variety of flavors looks more like a thin tortilla chip and contains seaweed, rice flour and seasonings. Serving size is a correct 1 oz. Lower in calories and fat than typical chips; protein, vitamin C (some of it added) and vitamin A (potentially overstated, as is B12 on the website) are at least a good source. The compostable bag is a smart bonus.
While these sound like something to be sprinkled over other foods to add “crunch… flavor… and nutrition,” the nutrition is shown for a full package (20g) to reflect that this will mostly be eaten as a “whole bag” snack. Good source of fiber and vitamin C, but more oil means more fat (9g)/calories (100) per relatively small serving.
Some general nutrition facts for seaweed:
1. Potassium is one of the major benefits of seaweed (higher than sodium), but interestingly it is not shown on the nutrition panels of these products (although Ocean’s Halo shows it on their website).
2. Vitamin C, vitamin A, iron and calcium also can be impressive, depending on the amount of processing and variety/species of seaweed (which these products don’t identify, unfortunately), but A and C are often overstated, along with vitamin B-12, which generally is not present in significant amounts in a useable form.
3. As for the fishy claims of seaweed being higher in protein than meat… don’t buy it. The numbers only work (barely) if you compare dried seaweed with fresh meat (before all the water is removed); i.e., not a valid comparison. Dried meat (e.g., jerky) has about twice the protein of dried seaweed.
Still, in a 100-calorie-ish snack, seaweed is a good catch.
Carol Harvey has been a nutrition labeling and product development consultant for over 15 years. She can be reached at palatemail @ yahoo.com.