Daybreak Seaweed turns Pacific kelp into seasonings
Catherine O’Hare and Avery Resor witnessed the pitfalls of the modern food system by working on farms and learning about conventional farming. These shortcomings led them to create Daybreak Seaweed, a company that turns responsibly grown West Coast kelp into seasonings.
The two met in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2017 through a mutual friend. They connected over the intrigue of seaweed farming and bringing kelp products to California.
“Growing up by the ocean in Southern California, I loved being on the water and by the water,” says O’Hare. “Seaweed is a flavorful ingredient. I thought more people should know about it and cook with it.”
People in the Bay Area were foraging for wild seaweed, but it was nothing like the seaweed farming industry of Maine and other parts of the East Coast. O’Hare and Resor were both excited about the idea of promoting a sustainable food source.
“Everyone is talking about local food and local meat, but we have abundant local seaweed species all around us,” says O’Hare. “Seaweed can be this super sustainable, regenerative food that improves water quality. Like all primary producers, it actually pulls carbon out of the water and helps to improve the water quality, helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems. The climate piece really got Avery and I hooked. It’s such a sustainable way to produce food.”
All of Daybreak Seaweed’s products are vegan and made with West Coast, US-grown seaweed. Daybreak’s most popular product is a classic seaweed salt, made with Northern California sea salt from the San Francisco Salt Company. It can be used in place of coarse salt to flavor foods.
During the pandemic, O’Hare and Resor collaborated with chefs at the Oakland restaurant Soba Ichi to create their Shichimi Togarashi, a seven-spice blend. It contains yuzu, orange, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, red chiles, and seaweed and is best on soba noodles or cucumber salads. It can also add a salty, spicy kick to scrambled eggs or popcorn.
O’Hare and Resor began their business hand-harvesting nori in Northern California and currently source alaria and laminaria from small-scale farms in Alaska: Seagrove Kelp and Alaska Shellfish Farms, Noble Ocean Farms, and Windy Bay Kelp Farm. Seagrove Kelp specializes in alaria, also known as West Coast wakame or ribbon kelp. They collect a wild kelp specimen, then cultivate it in a nursery onshore. Kelp is like a fern, with spores that reproduce. In a nursery, the kelp sits in tanks of water and the spores are captured onto a thin clear line. They outplant kelp into the bay on long lines attached to buoys. Alaska Shellfish Farms is an oyster and mussel farm owned by Weatherly and Greg Bates. Their aquafarm gets covered in weeds, just like a land farm would, and those seaweeds are harvested for use in Daybreak’s kelp products. Once the seaweed is harvested, it is dried on-site or barged to Seattle to dry.
“We do the drying and processing ourselves,” says O’Hare.
“We’ve done it a lot of different ways, and it’s still being perfected.”
They use dehydrators to dry the seaweed, and then do the processing and packaging in San Diego.
While Daybreak’s current farmers are in Alaska, they are hoping to add new farms from the Santa Barbara area that harvest dulse, a red algae that grows on the California coast. “It’s kind of the Wild West right now,” says O’Hare. “It’s such a new industry. There’s not a lot of the infrastructure for processing, and there’s so much needed. Right now, Alaska is set up for the fishing industry.”
When O’Hare and Resor started sourcing from Alaska, there weren’t many farms actively seaweed farming. That changed over the past two years, and they’re hoping the industry can grow with small-scale, community-minded farmers leading the way.
“We want to advocate for a thoughtful growth of this industry,” says O’Hare. “There’s a lot of talk that seaweed will change the world, so it’s important to develop it in a considerate way. There’s a lot of money getting poured into it. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes that happened on land.”
Luckily, Alaska has protections that perpetuate native seaweed varieties and discourage monocropping. Each year, a farm has to gather its source material from a local wild population.
“Most seaweed farms have very minimal input, therefore they’re very sustainable,” says O’Hare. “All seaweed needs to grow is saltwater and sun. It doesn’t need any other inputs—it’s a clean way to grow food.”
Seaweed: A general term for aquatic plants and algae.
Kelp: This brown algae is the largest subgroup of seaweed. It is a good source of vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D, and E, as well as fiber, zinc, iodine, magnesium, copper, and potassium. It can be eaten raw, cooked, or dried and is a traditional food of Korea, Japan, China, Iceland, Ireland, and Canada.
Did you know kelp has 10 times more calcium than milk?
Seaweed is typically harvested in April and May, depending on ocean conditions. The season lines up nicely with the fishing season in Alaska because kelp gets planted in October when fishing season ends and is harvested in April before salmon season begins.
It’s legal to harvest kelp for personal use in California with a fishing license. The daily bag limit is 10 pounds wet weight. Recreational harvesters are prohibited from harvesting or disturbing eelgrass (Zostera species), surfgrass (Phyllospadix species), and sea palm (Postelsia palmaeformis).
Marine protected areas, marine managed areas, special closures, and state marine parks may prohibit cutting or harvesting. Marine protected area boundaries extend up to the mean high tide line.
Slow Fish San Diego hosts events throughout the year. Learn more at slowfoodurbansandiego.org.
• Sprinkle on eggs, rice, or salad in place of salt
• Use in vegan Caesar dressing
• Add to a morning smoothie for extra nutrients
• Season pasta, pizza, or ramen
• Sprinkle on focaccia, bagels, or bread dough
• Give an umami kick to tomatoes and avocado toast
• Garnish over creamy cheese or burrata
• Boost flavors in soups, stews, and broths
• Sprinkle on grilled veggies or meat
• Use when marinating meat or fish
• Add to cookies, brownies, or scones
• Garnish anywhere else you use sea salt
Mixing seaweed into chocolate chip cookie dough might seem downright sneaky, but your summer snacking just got a whole lot stronger with these recipes from Daybreak Seaweed. Set the scene for an ocean-friendly movie party perfect for a variety of ages and watch these healthy treats disappear.
Five films ocean-lovers must watch (again and again)
Chasing Coral (documentary) directed by Jeff Orlowski
My Octopus Teacher (documentary) directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed
Whale Rider (drama) directed by Niki Caro
Moana (family musical) by Walt Disney Animation Studios
Sea of Hope (documentary) directed by Robert Nixon.
Sea of Hope film facts: The nearest Pacific Ocean Mission Blue Hope Spots designated by Dr. Sylvia Earle include Monterey Bay, the California Seamounts, the Gulf of California, Parque Nacional Revillagigedo, and the White Shark Cafe.
Give your popcorn a kick of spice and a boost of umami.
You'll go nuts for this mix.
If you thought chocolate chip cookies were addictive before, watch out for these.
Published in the print edition of Edible San Diego's summer 2022 issue.
Read issue 66 online now.