Seaweed is a very versatile product widely used for food in direct human consumption. It is also an ingredient for the global food and cosmetics industries and is used as fertilizer and as an animal feed additive. Total annual value of production is estimated at almost US$ 6 billion of which food products for human consumption represent US$ 5 billion. Total annual use by the global seaweed industry is about 8 million tonnes of wet seaweed.
Seaweed can be collected from the wild but is now increasingly cultivated. It falls into three broad groups based on pigmentation; brown, red and green seaweed.
Use of seaweed as food has strong roots in Asian countries such as China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, but demand for seaweed as food has now also spread to North America, South America and Europe. China is by far the largest seaweed producer followed by the Republic of Korea and Japan but seaweeds are today produced in all continents.
Red and brown seaweeds are also used to produce hydrocolloids; alginate, agar and carrageenan, which are used as thickening and gelling agents. Today, approximately 1 million tonnes of wet seaweed are harvested and extracted to produce about 55 000 tonnes of hydrocolloids, valued at almost US$ 600 million.
A guide to the seaweed industry.
FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 441.
Rome, FAO. 2003. 105p.