The internet is full of "superfoods" and supplements that claim to make you healthier and more beautiful, but few have received more attention in the last year than sea moss: yes, literal algae. Since 2020, when (who else?) Kim Kardashian began tweeting about the benefits of sea moss, the trend has exploded. In the years since, sea moss has gained popularity thanks to health influencers and, most recently, the viral Strawberry Glaze Skin Smoothie at Los Angeles grocer Erewhon.
Sea moss (or Irish moss, as it is sometimes called) is one of the hottest new health food ingredients, promising benefits ranging from weight loss to helping you get hornier. But what exactly is it? And is it worth $17 for a sea-moss-infused smoothie?
What is sea moss?
The term "sea moss" refers to various species of red algae in ocean waters worldwide. The most common varieties are gracilaria and Chondrus crispus, known by different names worldwide — ogo in Japanese and Irish moss in Jamaica.
Where you live may influence how you consume sea moss. It's an essential component of agar, a gelatine substitute used in Filipino cooking and vegan desserts. Dr Yvonne Noel, an OB-GYN in Brooklyn, drank Irish moss as a child in the Caribbean, which was made with milk, nutmeg, cinnamon, and sea moss. "We drank it almost like eggnog or what we'd call a smoothie today," Noel says. "It was a favourite drink at gatherings." Irish moss, named after the Irish labourers who came to the island, is a popular canned beverage in Jamaica that is sometimes touted as an aphrodisiac.
The gracilaria species of sea moss is frequently blanched and added to salads or boiled with fresh juice to make a pudding in places like Hawaii, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The current trend in the United States is to use sea moss gel, which is made by blending algae with water to create a smooth, jelly-like goop. Fruit is sometimes added to the puree to help mask the oceanic, musty odour associated with dried sea moss. The gel is then eaten by a spoonful once or twice a day or mixed into a beverage such as Hailey Bieber's Erewhon's strawberry skin smoothie. Pinterest also has recipes for fruit-based "ice cream," gummies, and jams made with sea moss.
Aside from its edible applications, gracilaria is a widespread species of algae for indoor aquariums and is occasionally found in skin care products such as jelly face masks.
Is sea moss good for you?
It could be in small doses. Proponents claim that sea moss gel can help you lose weight and lower cholesterol. Although the evidence for those alleged benefits is limited, experts believe it can be a good supplemental (and vegetarian) source of essential vitamins and minerals. "Overall, there are nutritional benefits to eating sea moss that have some science behind them," says dietician-nutritionist Lorraine Kearney. "It is high in copper, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B, B6, and B9." It's also high in iodine, which benefits people who don't get enough from other sources, such as shrimp and iodised salt.
However, much scientific research has yet to be done on the efficacy of sea moss gel. "While sea moss may have some benefits, it is not FDA regulated," says Dr Selvi Rajagopal, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. "When something is not FDA regulated, it means there have most likely been no large-scale randomised control trials, which are the gold standard for this type of research." Some studies are out there, but the evidence is currently lacking."
What are the risks of eating sea moss gel?
Consuming excessive sea moss gel may increase the risk of iodine toxicity: Iodine is a necessary nutrient, but excessive amounts can be harmful. "The concern with iodine toxicity is that you could develop thyroid dysfunction, thyroid cancer, and gastrointestinal symptoms," Rajapagol says. "Because sea moss is not an FDA-regulated product, it can be difficult to quantify exactly how much iodine you're getting in a 'dose.'" Despite its promotion as a fertility supplement, Kearney advises people trying to conceive or are currently breastfeeding not to consume sea moss gel, owing to the risk of elevated iodine levels.
The risk of heavy metal toxicity is also an issue. Our oceans are heavily polluted, with algae containing high levels of mercury, lead, cadmium, and industrial chemicals. "We know that sea moss can absorb heavy metals from its environment because it grows in various conditions," Noel says. "These metals can accumulate in the body over time and become toxic in someone who consumes sea moss regularly."
So, should I be adding sea moss to my smoothies?
Sometimes. In small, infrequent doses — a couple of times a week in a smoothie — sea moss gel is unlikely to be harmful. However, it is not a nutritional panacea and may have some adverse effects if you have certain health conditions or are trying to conceive.
Before taking sea moss or any other supplement, please consult your doctor to ensure that it is compatible with your specific health concerns. "In that case, if you think this might help you," Rajagopal says. "However, it should probably be done with your doctor's knowledge and under close supervision so that you can see whether or not your deficiencies are improving."