The small Coromandel company Wakame Fresh are turning a pest seaweed into a premium edible export.
Undaria, also known as wakame, is often referred to as ‘the gorse of the sea’. It’s one of the world’s most invasive pests. It’s also a staple part of the diet in Japan, where quality wakame is in short supply. The Wakame Fresh team are turning gorse into gourmet!
This project is pioneering, it’s innovative and it has the potential to create new market opportunities. The project is founded on the concept that seaweed will play a pivotal role in our world’s health and prosperity. And that seaweed will contribute to the world’s efforts to combat climate change, to life changing medicines and towards the world’s food security. Critically, this contribution can be both sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Undaria has been cultivated by Korean and Japanese farmers for centuries. Japan is the largest consumer of Undaria products in the world and it is very much a staple part of the Japanese diet. More commonly known as Wakame, it is a widely consumed in a variety of dishes, notably in miso soup, stews and salads.
In New Zealand, Undaria was declared as an unwanted organism in 2000 under the Biosecurity Act 1993. Despite extensive efforts by the government to remove Undaria from New Zealand coastal ecosystems, it is now found around much of New Zealand, from Stewart Island to as far north as the subtropical waters of Karikari Peninsula. It continues to spread and flourish.
The Japanese market alone for salted Wakame has an estimated annual value of more than 2 billion dollars (US$).
It seems seaweed is in the news for other potentially beneficial reasons as well. Certain types of seaweed can help fight antibiotic resistance in farm animals.
And government funding has been provided for another sea weed project – red seaweed has potential as a food supplement for cows to reduce climate-damaging methane “burps”
It’s early days with much more detailed work required before it can be said wakame harvesting is a viable and environmentally sustainable commercial operation. But on the face of it harvesting a product which is a pest for export as a premium edible, protein-rich low fat product, and involves low climate damaging emissions seems to have a lot going for it.