Kale of the Sea? The Truth about Seaweed Snacks

Ocean Snack Seaweed Crisps

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.

3. gimMee Organic Roasted Seaweed Crumbles – Sesame

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.

gimMe Roasted Seaweed Snack

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.

  • Casey

    Less added sugar than most jerky too!

    • Carol H

      Sugar is an important part of the curing process — it brings out the flavor of the meat, helps preserve the meat, avoids excess use of salt, and helps provide a softer texture. This is why Native Americans made their jerky/pemmican with berries. You can get un-sugared dried meat, but it will be more like shoe leather, and/or very salty. Besides, the amount of protein in the jerky more than compensates for the sugar if you are worried about glycemic spikes.

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  • http://www.greeneyedguide.com/ Danielle Robertson

    My only concern with ocean snacks is that the heavy metals can be a bit high. As a product developer for dry powder beverages, it’s been difficult to find a kelp powder with a low heavy metal count. Just something to consider, there are pros and cons to every food.

    • Csillagfeny

      and the radiation from Fukusima…

    • Carol H

      Not many snacks use kelp, for various reasons, including taste, toughness and lower nutrient content. Nori/laver (same as is in sushi) is more commonly used. Also, since seaweed is low on the food chain, it generally picks up fewer toxins. All seaweed is rinsed in fresh water before use.

      • Nick

        A lot of the problems with seaweed is the stuff that gets processed from Japan is harvested worldwide, some of it in pretty heavily polluted water, which can pick up and exceed safe consumption limits (some big issues in the UK with Japanese seaweed.)

        Still the trace elements found in seaweed won’t ever show up on a nutrition label, the macro nutrients aren’t as important because you really shouldn’t be scarfing down that much seaweed. Its one of those products that the 5 or 15g serving size might actually be better than some blanket FDA rule.

  • Cactus_Wren

    I’d love to see a taste-test on some of these.

  • Sparkina

    sea veggies are DELISH