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Kelp vs Seaweed: Is There a Difference?

December 21, 2023

Seaweed has been having a moment over the past few years, gaining immense popularity as a sustainable, nutrient-dense input for various products ranging from skincare to food. Among the various seaweed species, in particular, kelp and sargassum have garnered significant attention from health-conscious companies seeking alternative ingredients for the products they sell. But what are the differences (and similarities) between these two species of seaweed? From the makeup of kelp and sargassum, to sustainability, harvesting practices, and upcycling potential, let’s see how these two species stack up against on another

Seaweed kelp forest at Catalina Island

Tell me more about the kelp vs seaweed debate

What’s funny about this debate is that kelp is actually a species of seaweed, but when hearing about this debate in mainstream media or regular conversations, that distinction is rarely made. So, we’re here to set the record straight – kelp is, in fact, a type of seaweed.

Understanding kelp and sargassum as seaweed species

Seaweed is an umbrella term that covers a number of marine life plants that grow in oceanic environments, including kelp, nori, dulse, sargassum, and many others. Kelp as a species belongs to the Laminariales family, and is a large brown seaweed that forms extensive underwater forests in shallow, nutrient-rich ocean habitats. Sargassum, another type of brown seaweed that belongs to the Sargassaceae family, is often found floating in the open ocean, forming large mats known as the Sargasso Sea. We have a whole blog post on sargassum seaweed 101 that may be helpful to peruse if you want to learn more. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on kelp and sargassum to better understand the differences and similarities – especially as these two have risen in popularity over the last few years as natural inputs to consumer products.

sargassum in the water

Key differences and similarities between kelp vs sargassum seaweed

When looking at seaweed species as a whole, they all share some commonalities in composition since they’re all technically part of a big, happy oceanic family. When looking at both kelp and sargassum, both live under the brown seaweed umbrella, and are rich in essential nutrients, including vitamins A, C, and E, as well as minerals like iodine, calcium, iron, and antioxidants. Regarding their differences, kelp is generally known for its higher iodine content compared to other seaweed types. This iodine concentration can vary depending on factors like the species and the location in which it grows. Plus, when looking at the key differences between kelp vs sargassum seaweed, we have to remember that kelp grows in a much different environment. On the other hand, sargassum being a floating seaweed, may not have the same iodine levels as kelp but still retains many of the other beneficial nutrients (minerals, antioxidants, etc.) that make a strong case for its upcycled uses. Overall, these species are very similar – it’s more important to look at how they’re harvested to understand the differences and why those matter for potential product use and sustainability.

How are kelp vs sargassum seaweed harvested?

When discussing these two types of seaweed and the seaweed industry as a whole, one of the primary areas of concern is if the harvesting practices are sustainable – especially for kelp. As noted, kelp lives in wild forest ecosystems and is typically harvested while alive and thriving. When harvesters cut the entire plant from its natural habitat, in turn, they destroy essential marine habitats where various species live and thrive. The sustainability of this practice comes into question due to having harmful effects on marine organisms that rely on kelp beds for shelter and food.

Kelp Forest

On the flip side, sargassum offers a much more sustainable option. As a natural waste byproduct of the ocean, sargassum washes ashore or accumulates near the coast after it has served its purpose as a floating habitat for various marine species. Collecting sargassum from these areas not only helps clean up beaches where sargassum would otherwise rot and release harmful greenhouse gasses, but it also repurposes a natural resource and upcycles it. Which leads us to…

Can you upcycle kelp? Sargassum?

Let’s start with sargassum since we just discussed that above. Sargassum can be upcycled and used for a number of different purposes ranging from skincare ingredients to agricultural crop enhancement and much more. Plain and simple, since kelp is not a waste product – so, it cannot be upcycled.

Beach covered with sargassum seaweed

Carbonwave’s use of sargassum instead of kelp

Carbonwave, the world’s leading developer of ultra-regenerative, plant-based, advanced biomaterials, upcycles sargassum in everything we do. Instead of harvesting kelp from a thriving underwater ecosystem to gain access to its minerals and antioxidant content, we believe that sargassum provides an easier to access solution that provides similar benefits. Win win.

What Carbonwave uses sargassum for

Carbonwave has developed a revolutionary, proprietary extraction process that enables us to use sargassum to its fullest potential. Our in-house brands – Sarga Agriscience, SeaBalance, leathers and non-wovens, and more that’s under development – all use the outputs of sargassum to create new, plant-based products that are lighter on the earth and better for humans. Learn more about the work we’re doing and incorporate sargassum-based products into your life today. Get in touch to learn more.

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