What do you do when invaded by a swath of green algae that’s 11,500 miles wide and looks like Swamp Thing’s back hair? Eat it of course! That’s what Qingdao citizens have done with the massive algae bloom that has consumed their coastline for the sixth year in a row – making everything from algae spring rolls to Tsingtao beer with algae.
Despite resembling the clippings from a Wookie on Saint Patrick’s Day, the seaweed is non-toxic, and actually helps lower your blood sugar when part of a supplement called hutai sugar. Dried algae sells for around 40RMB per pound in Southern China, and what’s not eaten is converted into fertilizer and animal feed.
The Chinese are no newbies to utilizing algae. Hair vegetable (发菜, fǎ cài), a freshwater alga that resembles matted black hair, was traditionally eaten around Chinese New Year until it was largely banned in the early 2000s because over harvesting eroded the topsoil in the Gobi Desert where it grows.
Unfortunately, eating the Qingdao algae won’t make a dent in the mass bloom, which can have adverse effects on ocean oxygen levels. So in the meantime there’s plenty of gunk for beach goers to romp about in. At least until it rots and emits poisonous hydrogen sulfide fumes.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].