The term ‘commercial seaweed’ refers to commercially produced seaweed, which is typically for consumption. Seaweed, also known as macro-algae or marine algae, is broadly classified into three groups based on pigmentation: red, green, and brown. Red seaweed is usually small in size and sometimes brownish red, or even purple; however, it is still classified as ‘Rhodophyceae’ by botanists due to other characteristics. Green seaweed has a similar size range as red seaweed, and brown seaweed is usually larger, ranging from 30 cm to 20 m. Seaweeds are shaped in the form of delicate spheres, broad leaves, and fingers. Seaweed has been used across the globe for many centuries, primarily in the food and beverage industry for its various hydrocolloid (moisture-retentive) properties.
Seaweed has been used as a food item since ancient times in various parts of the globe. However, the utilization of seaweed in some sectors has started recently or in recent decades. For instance, the use of seaweed in infant formula was recently approved. Similarly, in biofuel manufacturing, seaweed is used as biomass. The use of seaweed is also increasing in the cosmetic industry, where it is used as a gelling agent and stabilizer in cosmetic products. The application of seaweed in such sectors is in the introductory or in the initial stage of growth phase across the globe.
The utilization of seaweed in pharmaceutical products is increasing due to its various beneficial properties. Seaweed has special characteristics such as strong negative charge and gelling agent. It has been used as a viscosity-enhancing agent or gelling agent for the controlled release of drugs and prolonged retention of drugs. Seaweed products are also used for drug delivery systems in the pharmaceutical industry. Seaweed is also used as an extrusion aid for the production of pellets, an excipient in the pharmaceutical industry, a carrier/stabilizer in micro and nanoparticle systems, and as a matrix in oral extended tablets. It is also used for cell delivery and tissue regeneration with various therapeutic macromolecules. Various other potential applications and safety evaluation of seaweed are anticipated to be undertaken in the near future. In March 2014, NCBI published a research paper on carrageenan, a derivative of red seaweed, which has various beneficial properties for the pharmaceutical industry, such as a gelling agent in capsules.
Seaweed derivatives such as carrageenan are extensively used in the food industry. Seaweed is used in the food and beverage industry for particle suspension, emulsification, protein stabilizing, thickening, and stabilizing in various types of processed food products, including dairy products, chocolate milk, sour cream, ice cream, and salad dressings. It is also widely used as a vegan/vegetarian gelatin-based food and beverage product, specifically for the vegan population. It also finds applications in baked products, confectionery products, dairy products, meat and poultry products, soups, salads, and beverages. Moreover, seaweed is a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Hence, the nutritional and health benefits of seaweed drive demand in the food and beverage industry.
Seaweed has been consumed by Asians for quite a long time. This consumption was initiated by the Japanese during the fourth century and China in the sixth century. In recent times, it has been gaining popularity among consumers due to its several benefits; seaweed is a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, supporting the ability to thyroid function, and nutrition-rich contents. Seaweed also reduces the risk of diabetes and heart disease and promote weight loss. It is famous in many parts of Asia as a well-known source of hydrocolloids, such as alginates, agar-agar, and carrageenan. It is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, essential amino acids, vitamins A, B, C, and E, and dietary fibers. According to the research paper published by the NCBI on seaweed and its health benefits, the nutritive value and functional effects of its fibers help promote the digestive health of humans.
The demand for seaweed and derivatives, such as carrageenan and red seaweed, is increasing among infant’s product manufacturers after the FDA approval of using carrageenan in conventional, as well as organic infant formula in 2014. Commercial seaweed manufacturers in developing countries can collaborate with infant food manufacturers and focus on increasing their production capacity to cater to the rising demand for seaweed from infant food manufacturers. Also, the demand for healthy infant formula products is increasing across the globe, owing to the increasing urban population and change in consumer lifestyle. In June 2015, a technical report on the safety of carrageenan in infant formula was released by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives, which approved the use of carrageenan.
Globally increasing concerns regarding environmental issues are expected to fuel the commercial seaweed market growth. Various rules and regulations are introduced each year in different regions regarding environmental issues. Among all kinds of pollution, air pollution is considered the most common and dangerous pollution for living beings. One of the major factors behind air pollution is fossil fuels that produce toxic gases after combustion. To reduce air pollution, the government is implementing different regulations. For instance, in Delhi, India (one of the most polluted cities in the world), the government has made an odd-even rule for automobiles to reduce air pollution in the city, wherein automobiles have an even registration number can only be used on even dates and vice versa. Also, the governments of various regions have approved biofuel policy. For instance, in 2018, the government of India approved the biofuel policy to reduce pollution and imports in the country. By considering this, many manufacturers operating in the fuel industry have started making biofuels, such as bioethanol, which are effective and environment-friendly as compared to fossil fuels. The consumption of biofuels is expected to be high in the near future, which in turn will increase the consumption of commercial seaweed to manufacture biofuels.
Commercially, seaweed is used in various sectors for different purposes. The use of seaweed in food products for human consumption contributes to a significant portion of the total commercial seaweed market. The substances extracted from commercial seaweed, such as hydrocolloids, also account for a large portion in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry. Seaweed is also used in agriculture for making fertilizers. In addition, animal feed manufacturers are also incorporating seaweed into their products. Other applications of seaweed include wastewater treatment, biomass for fuel, and integrated aquaculture.
Seaweed registers significant demand across the globe. It has been a staple food in various parts of Asia since ancient times. China, Japan, and Korea are the largest consumers of seaweed in the region. Seaweed is also used as a food item in Eastern regions of the world and Australia. In some parts of the United States, such as Hawaii, people consume large amounts of seaweed. In Japanese diets, seaweed kaiso accounts for more than 8%. The consumption of seaweed in Japan has increased by 20%. As compared to the last decade, an average of 3.3 kg of seaweed is consumed per household in Japan. In addition, the demand for seaweed is expected to be high in Europe, owing to the increasing vegetarian/vegan population and migration of a significant number of people from China and Japan to Europe.
Various regional, national, and international players offer commercial seaweed. Some of the prominent manufacturers are listed below.
A large number of commercial seaweed manufacturers are from Asia, North America, and Europe owing to the high usage of commercial seaweed in food industries in these regions.