Colleen Francke, owner of Summit Point Seafood in Falmouth, harvests her ocean-grown crop for the Maine Family Seafarm Cooperative, which sells to kelp veggie burger manufacturer Akua. Courtesy of Akua

Since Akua’s kelp burgers launched in 2021, the company has sold more than 1 million of the plant-based patties.

Made with kelp harvested by the farmers of the Maine Family Seafarm Cooperative, the burgers are sold in roughly 1,000 grocery stores and 200 restaurants nationwide, and, last year, Akua launched mini kelp burgers co-branded with Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants.

The company, based in Cape Cod, is among a growing number of plant-based food manufacturers that are embracing Maine-grown kelp for its nutritional and environmental benefits.

“Kelp farming offers this chance to do agriculture right,” said Akua CEO Courtney Boyd Meyers, whose company processes 40,000 pounds of Maine kelp each year and plans to move its burger production to Freeport from Atlanta this summer. “The hamburger is the symbol of everything that’s wrong with the American food system. A kelp burger is the opposite.”

Chef and Portland High graduate Andrew Wilkinson agrees.

“Kelp has become the most interesting ingredient I’ve ever worked with,” Wilkinson said. “It needs no land. It needs no fresh water. It cleans the ocean as it grows. It needs no pesticides or fertilizers.”


The kelp meatballs from North Coast Seafoods in Boston are made with Maine kelp and sold to schools and other foodservice providers. Photo by Christian L’Heureux

Wilkinson works for the Boston-based seafood processor North Coast Seafood and first cooked with kelp during the pandemic. From there, he developed kelp Sea Veggie Burgers for Biddeford-based Atlantic Sea Farms. Since then, he has brought kelp to the foodservice market, developing what he describes as the “seaweed-ish” frozen kelp meatballs, which are manufactured by North Coast.

“Our food supply is so broken, and it’s terrible, especially in K to 12,” Wilkinson said, referring to the school foodservice market. “We need to pivot. We need to think differently. These days, I spend more time in classrooms than I do in kitchens.”

His classroom work with kelp meatballs began a year ago in public schools in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The student-run Project Greenplate at the high school promoted the climate-friendly meatballs on social media, and The Boston Globe wrote about the kelp-based menu addition.

“I made the flavor profile so that a third grader can eat it,” Wilkinson said. “It tastes great. It leads with Maine kelp. It has a clean label. It has no allergens.”

Since then, schools in Medfield, Massachusetts; Austin, Texas; Boston; South Portland; and Maine’s RSU 12 have begun serving the vegan meatballs, as have several universities, among them Harvard and Yale.

Noting that the majority of kelp sold in the U.S. is imported, Zoë Croft, Atlantic Sea Farms’ sales director, said the partnership with Wilkinson demonstrated that “Maine kelp has a flavor profile just as good if not better than anything imported.”


Unlike most other seaweed salads, Atlantic Sea Farms salad is made with fresh, undyed Maine kelp. photo courtesy of Atlantic Seafarms

Like Akua, Atlantic Sea Farms processes its own seaweed and sells its kelp burgers to grocery stores. Atlantic Sea Farms also makes a range of other retail products, including smoothie cubes and seaweed salads. The company’s dried kelp powder is mostly sold wholesale and used by other manufacturers in a range of national products, from pastas, dressings and energy bars to kimchi, puffed snacks, pet food, and skincare products.

The latest sign of kelp’s growing health halo is the recent move by “large grocery stores to have their own private label products with kelp in it,” Croft said. “Kelp has really important trace vitamins and minerals that you can’t find in land-based vegetables. It’s a natural source of iodine. It is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. We call it the super food of the sea.”

Pointing to the rapidly warming Gulf of Maine, Croft emphasized how “kelp captures nitrogen and carbon as it grows, which fights against the warming waters and helps balance the pH in the local water column.” Climate change-caused ocean acidification threatens the survival of scallops, clams, lobsters and other shellfish.

In addition to kelp’s environmental and nutrition benefits, food manufacturers appreciate the sea vegetable for its versatility in cooking, Croft said, noting its natural salt and umami flavors, and its usefulness as a thickener and emulsifier.

Atlantic Sea Farms buys kelp from 40 farms that stretch from Casco Bay to Eastport. The average size of each farm is four acres, marked by moorings and buoys with the kelp growing out-of-sight below the waves. This year, the company began farming in the waters off Rhode Island and Alaska.

Internationally, seaweed production is a $6 billion industry, with 97 percent of seaweed grown on massive farms in Asia. But Maine has rapidly entered this global industry and already is the largest kelp producer in the U.S. The state harvested 1 million pounds of kelp in 2022, up from less than 53,000 pounds four years earlier. By the end of this year’s harvest, which is wrapping up now, Atlantic Sea Farms alone projects it will have purchased 1 million pounds of Maine sugar kelp and skinny kelp, as demand for Maine-grown kelp continues to rise.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

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