food / travel

Algae, The Food That Could Save Humanity

Cooked in Asia for centuries, this protein-rich marine plant is making its way onto our plates.

Cultivating seaweed in Bali, Indonesia
Cultivating seaweed in Bali, Indonesia
JP Géné

With the world’s population expected to reach the 9 billion mark by around 2050, specialists of all stripes are concerned about feeding the next generations.

Reports periodically come out suggesting that the answer lies in the reduction of food waste, the intensive harvesting of GMO crops, a more widespread reliance on organic agriculture, the establishment of a global vegetarian regime or the successful conversion of meat-loving cultures to diets rich in soy or tofu.

The latest brouhaha â€" backed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, or FAO â€" has focused on insects, which scientists have promoted as a new source of protein. With news reports covering grasshopper breeding in apartments, short-winged cricket cooking lessons and taste comparisons between Thai organic bamboo worms and giant mealworms, it’s safe to say the issue has captivated the media’s attention.

But this press frenzy has hardly changed the world’s culinary habits, especially in Western countries.

Luckily, there is an alternative marine solution, one that could significantly help, if not guarantee, mankind’s survival: algae, which has been popular in Asian cooking for centuries. This abundant resource is even more important considering that it can be cultivated or harvested in the wild.

Seaweed salad â€" Photo: Joselu Blanco

According to the FAO, global algae production has gone from 2 million tons in the 1970s to more than 25 million in 2013, with 90% of species coming from algaculture and the remainder from the wild. About 60% is used in pharmacology, cosmetology or as fertilizer.

But 40% ends up in our plates in one form or another: fresh, as a condiment, dried, frozen or mixed in with other ingredients. We eat algae every day without realizing it. Agar-agar, for instance, is an algae additive that has been replacing the gelatin in cooked meats, candy and cookies over the last four decades.

Oceans and rivers contain more than 100,000 species of algae, but only 145 of these are consumed in the world, including 24 that are authorized in France: eight species of brown algae (wakame, kombu, thongweed, fucus), 11 of red algae (dulse, nori), two of green algae (sea lettuce) and three of micro-algae (spirulina).

Rich in protein, iodine, calcium, mineral salts and all sorts of vitamins, the different types of algae help prevent cardiovascular diseases and boost our immune systems. These undersea plants are not harmed by land disasters. The only drawback: They are vulnerable to oil spills and contamination by heavy metals, which harm their unanimously recognized nutritional qualities.

The French, who grow and harvest 80,000 tons of algae along the 2,700-kilometer stretch of Brittany coast, only consume 1,500 tons per year, compared with the 2 million tons consumed by the Japanese. In their defense, the red tides that pollute Brittany beaches with excrement from intensive pig farms hardly stir up enthusiasm, let alone appetite.

Most foodies who have never traveled to Japan discover algae in sushi bars: Maki, miso soup and wakame salad serve as the introductory trio of the marine vegetable world.

French products

Which are the most popular types of algae? Nori, famed for wrapping up maki, is the most consumed algae in the world. Collected in Brittany by hand at low tide, it has a very distinctive taste, similar to Chinese smoked tea.

Next up, wakame, a dark green algae found in brine; it makes for a great fresh salad with sesame oil and seeds. With its highly salty flavor, wakame is closer in taste to the oyster, and it is generally used in Japanese miso soup.

Algae salad â€" Photo: San

Kombu is a long brown algae collected in France in the Molène archipelago. Slightly sweeter than the wakame, the kombu is grown in the Finistère department. With dried skipjack shavings, it is one of the two pillars of dashi, the famous aromatic broth that is used as the base ingredient of many Asian dishes.

Sea lettuce is also growing increasingly popular. Very green and slightly peppery, it, too grows in Brittany and is often used in salads.

Algae tastes good, but that’s not all. An algae-based vaccine could help reinforce the immune systems of battery-reared chickens, and prevent them from being stuffed with preventive antibiotics. Tests carried out on 500,000 birds seem promising.

Salvation could come from the seas.

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Geopolitics

"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.


The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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