Melissa Clark’s Kelp Call

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Kelp, a variety of edible seaweed farmed near Portland, Me., is harvested in spring. It’s delectable and nutritious, it’s easy to cook with, and it actively benefits the ocean’s health. Matt Cosby for The New York Times

Melissa Clark has appeared in our pages plenty of times, starting in 2014 when we were launching a restaurant whose menu featured tasty, nutritious and environmentally friendly dishes–i.e. the types of foods she promotes. Today’s pitch is right in line with those we have featured before:

The Climate-Friendly Vegetable You Ought to Eat

Kelp is delicious and versatile, and farming it is actively good for the ocean. Melissa Clark wants you to just try a bite.

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Justin Papkee, kept company by his dog, Seguin, pulling up a line of kelp. Harvesting wild kelp is ancient, but farming it is a relatively new practice in the United States. Matt Cosby for The New York Times

PORTLAND, Me. — It was a sharp, windy March day, but the gray water of Casco Bay glimmered green in the sun. On his lobster boat, the Pull N’ Pray, Justin Papkee scanned the surface of the ocean, searching for his buoys. But he wasn’t looking for lobster traps.

Mr. Papkee was farming, not fishing: His crop, clinging to ropes beneath the cold waves, was seaweed, thousands of pounds of brownish kelp undulating under the surface. Growing at a rate of 4 to 6 inches per day for the past six months, it was nearly ready to be harvested and sent to restaurants like Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Estela, Houseman, Saint Julivert Fisherie and Luke’s Lobster in New York, and Honey Paw, Chaval and the Purple House here in Maine.

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Justin’s father, Chris Papkee, at left, and Jimmy Ranaghan removing the kelp from the long ropes on which it grows. Matt Cosby for The New York Times

He pulled a blade of kelp from his line and handed me a long, translucent strip. I took a bite, and then another, seawater running down my chin.

I’d eaten plenty of seaweed salads at Japanese and vegan restaurants, but this was not that. A variety called skinny kelp, it was lightly salty and profoundly savory, with a flavor like ice-cold oyster liquor, and a crisp, snappy texture somewhere between stewed collard greens and al dente fettuccine. The chef Brooks Headley, who adds it in slippery slivers to the barbecued carrots he serves at Superiority Burger in New York, described it in an email as “insanely delicious and texturally incredible.”

Harvesting wild kelp is ancient, but farming it is relatively new in the United States; it’s the main variety of seaweed being cultivated here. The technology was imported from Asia and adopted here by a group of ecologically minded entrepreneurs who view seaweed as the food crop of the future. Kelp is nutritionally dense (it’s loaded with potassium, iron, calcium, fiber, iodine and a bevy of vitamins); it actively benefits ocean health by mitigating excess carbon dioxide and nitrogen; and can provide needed income to small fisheries threatened by climate change and overfishing.

“Kelp is a superhero of seaweed,” said Susie Arnold, a marine scientist at the Island Institute in Rockland, Me. “It de-acidifies the ocean by removing nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon dioxide, which we have too much of.”

A feel-good superfood, kelp is more than the new kale. It’s a rare bright spot on an increasingly dim horizon, an umami-rich glint of hope…

Read the whole story here.

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