AgResearch scientists work to unlock the hidden potential of seaweed

Researchers will focus on the Undaria pinnatifida species of seaweed.
Researchers will focus on the Undaria pinnatifida species of seaweed. Photo credit: AgResearch

Scientists from AgResearch are working to unlock the health potential of seaweed, in a new project with researchers from Singapore.

By focusing on the Undaria pinnatifida species of seaweed, which is abundant in the waters around both New Zealand and Singapore, the researchers are hoping to explore not just ways to process the algae to make it more accessible to be eaten but also look at the nutritional value it has.

"People around the world have been eating seaweed for centuries, including Māori," AgResearch senior scientist Dr Linda Samuelsson said on Wednesday.

"But despite it being easily grown and rich in important nutrients, it is not a staple in most people's diets. Partly that is because it isn't to many people's taste, but also because many of these important nutrients are locked inside the seaweed and aren't readily absorbed by our bodies when we eat it."

The three-year research project will receive $3.3 million of funding from the Government, alongside parallel funding from the Government of Singapore. 

Dr Linda Samuelsson.
Dr Linda Samuelsson. Photo credit: AgResearch

Dr Samuelsson said the first year of research will focus on unlocking the nutritional value from seaweed, and by the end of the second year, the scientists hope to have developed a flavourful and nutritious prototype food.

"What we are aiming to do with this research is develop ways to cook or process the seaweed so that we have flavours and textures that appeal to people, but we also want to look at the health aspect," said Dr Samuelsson.  

"Seaweed proteins are typically less digestible than animal proteins, so we will be looking at what form the seaweed can better deliver the nutrients to the person eating it. We'll also be looking at how the seaweed proteins interact with people's gut microbiome (the collection of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract)."

Chef Dale Bowie will also be involved in the project.