Holding rice, salmon and avo in a nice cylindrical shape isn’t the only thing that seaweed is good for. In Asian food culture, seaweed comes in all shapes and forms to make soups, salads or garnishes. But not only does it taste amazing, it’s also exceptionally good for you with a high concentration of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants.
No one knows this better than Alex Pressman, CEO at Waikaitu Limited. His business concentrates on harvesting invasive seaweed species from NZ’s coasts and converting them into all sorts of beneficial products. This business model is a two birds in stone solution to protecting our local marine environment, keeping it (and in the process us) beautiful. We spoke to Pressman about the benefits of Seaweed as skincare.
I’ve heard through the grapevine that you’re an extremely passionate advocate of seaweed. Some people have dubbed you “The Seaweed Guy”. How did your love for these marine plants come about?
It all started about 6 years ago where I was looking for sources of marine nutrients that would help people and animals to improve their health and their emotional wellbeing. Marine nutrients, whether they are from fish, mussels or seaweeds are full of easily absorbable amino acids, trace elements and essential fatty acids such as omega 3 oils. With our terrestrial plants growing in nutritionally depleted soils, marine plants can provide the nutrition we need. We are lucky in New Zealand that our coastal waters are some of the cleanest in the world and that is very important because seaweed will absorb heavy metals from water where it grows. Our seaweed is so clean that it came in ‘first in purity’ among 18 other seaweed products on the American market. Because seaweed is a chelator of heavy metals and a detoxifier, skin and nutrition products that use seaweed can help clean and rejuvenate skin by removing impurities from the skin cells. I eat seaweed every day and I know personally what a difference it has made in my life inside and outside. It is very easy to be enthusiastic about the seaweed when you believe in it and use it yourself.
What exactly does the role of “The Seaweed Guy” involve?
We harvest our own seaweed from the greenlipped mussel lines in the Marlborough sounds. So in the early days you would find me getting into our 6 tonne harvest truck at 4:30 in the morning, drive for three hours to get on the barge at 7:30 to steam out. Harvesting would go on until 2:30pm with lunch being live mussels right off the line. Then we would load the truck at around 5:30pm and back I would go to unload the truck at our factory. This would mean I would be home around 10pm – and I slept quite soundly after that. Although the company has gotten a lot bigger since then and I don’t have the time to get on the barge as much as I used to, it is still my favourite part of the of my job. Marlborough Sounds is a truly magical place and it is a privilege to be able to experience it.
How did the inception of including seaweed into skincare come about?
ecostore, truly is an innovator in the field of organic nutrition and when they started to look at using seaweeds in their skin care they came to us for high quality raw materials. It would have been much easier for them to go to a well-established pharmaceutical company off shore but that would have meant they would not be using New Zealand ingredients. Also, when they heard that we were removing an invasive species of seaweed from our waters, they were keen to help us in this effort. It was really a good fit and a true partnership for both companies. It took two years of R&D to come up with a formulation that met everyone’s high standards. And it was worth the effort because the product that ecostore has released is much better than some of the most premium brands on the market.
Recently, there’s been a surge in marine algae skincare. What are the aspects of seaweed that can create such impressive results?
Skin is the largest organ in our body and it can directly absorb nutrition – which is why the purity of the seaweed is so important. Seaweeds contain the most complete level of essential nutrients of any other plant. By some count, seaweeds contain 71 different nutritional components such as vitamins, amino acids and minerals, most of which cannot be manufactured by our bodies. To put seaweed directly on the skin is to nourish our skin to be younger, more resilient and cleaner than it was before.
As always, there is a catch 22 with everything. Are there any negative points about seaweed? If so, what are you doing to reverse it?
We only harvest an invasive species of seaweed from our waters. It arrived in 1980s from Asia in the ballast water of cargo ships. NZ Government has spent over 120 million dollars over 20 years to try to eradicate it with no success. We believe that the best way to remove it is to make a product that everyone wants from it. We are on our way to making it happen.
Where to from here?
We have started to sell our seaweed anti-cancer product outside of New Zealand. We are shipping it to many countries – from Vietnam to Europe to the USA. Also we are leading the fight to reduce the levels of Nitrate pollution in New Zealand fresh water. Yes, you can use seaweed to greatly reduce the amount of urea (in fertiliser) needed to grow crops, so there is less Nitrate runoff into the groundwater supply and soils. Then recently, we launched two products to help honey bees stay healthy and survive the stressful winter season. So we have our hands full making healthy seaweed products for people, plants and pollinators.