Is Sea Moss Austin’s Next Superfood?
The edible algae is riding a wave of popularity across town
Let's take a trip to the Atlantic Ocean, shall we? Along the rocky coastlines of Europe, North America, and the Caribbean there grows sea moss, an edible red algae. This small, reddish-purple seaweed goes by a few names – some call it Irish moss or carrageen – and has a rich culinary history in various countries ranging from Ireland to Indonesia.
Odds are that you have already eaten sea moss. At least, you've likely eaten an ingredient extracted from it, called carrageenan, that's used in the food industry as a gelling, thickening, and stabilizing agent in products like diet soda, deli meats, ice cream, and plant-based milks, to name a few.
Recently, sea moss has become a star of its own in the United States, reaching virality on social media, thanks in part to celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Hailey Bieber, and Meek Mill, who've all posted about eating it.
Proponents of sea moss hail it as a nutrient-rich superfood that can help with everything from inflammation to weight loss to libido. Could it really be nature's cure-all? Sea moss is chock-full of vitamins (including vitamins D, B, and K), minerals (like calcium, iron, zinc, and iodine), fatty acids, and prebiotic fiber. But sea moss supplements aren't approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and most nutritionists say that maintaining a well-balanced diet will supply all the essential nutrients you need for optimal health.
Still, sea moss fans abound, and the hype over this marine algae has brought it to landlocked Austin. Small businesses are popping up to sell sea moss in its dried or gelled form direct to consumer, and a few restaurants have started adding it to their menus.
Ericka Dotson started up her business Lott's Herbs & Remedies – the first Texas-based sea moss wholesaler and distributor – in 2020. The company operates out of Community Vegan – a food truck that Dotson co-owns with Marlon Rison. She sells a variety of dried sea moss sourced from St. Lucia to her customers. "We noticed there was definitely a void that needed to be filled here in Austin," Dotson says. Typically, customers will rehydrate the dried sea moss and then blitz it up in a blender with water to form a gel, which they'll eat by the spoonful or add to smoothies.
People come to Lott's eager to try sea moss for a variety of reasons, Dotson says. "They're seeking help for anything from hair loss, energy level, immune system support, sleeping patterns, thyroid support, metabolism, hair, skin and nails, post-workout recovery, even libido," she explains. "Our sea moss has really helped a lot of people who we've serviced. I believe it's nutrition on a cellular level." (Note: None of these claims have been backed up by scientific studies or the FDA.)
Dotson learned about sea moss more than 10 years ago while living in New York City. "There's a huge Caribbean community there, and you can go to any kind of Jamaican spot and they will have a sea moss drink," she says. When Dotson moved back to her hometown of Austin, she wanted to share sea moss with the sealess city. She became a certified herbalist and opened Lott's, named in honor of her family, who has historic ties to Austin. (Dotson's great-grandfather, Oral Rochester "O.R." Lott Sr., was the owner of Lott Lumber Co., one of the biggest Black-owned lumber yards in Texas, and her grandfather, Virgil C. Lott, was the first African American to graduate from the University of Texas School of Law.)
Taking sea moss by the spoonful in its gel form can taste, well, oceanic. Dotson says she'll follow a spoonful with a chaser of water or hot tea so it dissolves on the tongue straight away. She also says that it helps to rehydrate the sea moss in water with lemon or lime to cut out the taste of the sea: "I always tell people, 'Soak it in some lemon, girl!'" Otherwise, Dotson recommends adding sea moss gel to a smoothie or drink.
Which is exactly what's been a recipe for success for Sadiki White, owner of Simply Sea Moss, a supplier of sea moss beverages and gels produced and packaged in Austin.
White's father began making sea-moss-infused juices at his family restaurant in New Jersey and quickly realized he was onto something big. "The sea moss was just selling off the shelves – people loved it because of how my dad prepares it," White says. "I have yet to really see anybody prepare it the way he does and the way that I now do it." Part of the secret, White says, is to juice the sea moss gel. Blend that up with a variety of fruit, like strawberry and mango, and deliciousness is imminent. White brought his dad's recipes and technique here to Austin, opening Simply Sea Moss, a business he soon plans to expand to Los Angeles.
Sea moss has been a part of White's life since he can remember. "My dad is a Rastafarian and my mom is also Jamaican, and sea moss in Jamaica was always a thing," he says. Sea moss grows abundantly on Jamaica's coasts, he notes. With easy access to sea moss and a strong belief in its purported medicinal and health properties, Jamaicans have used it in food and drinks for generations. "I give the credit to my parents and to my family and to Jamaica for introducing me to it."
When White moved to Austin in 2018, he heard murmurs about sea moss catching on, and knew that Austinites would be eager to try his family's products. "I called my dad immediately and was like, 'Dad, we gotta get this here,'" he says. "Here, they are going crazy for it, and I'd never really seen it like that before."
Sea moss is for everyone, White says, and he receives constant contact online from people asking for it. But his clientele, in particular, seems to have an athletic bent. "My wife and I are both ex-professional athletes," he says, "so we're pretty known in the community when it comes to athletics and now for sea moss."
Sea moss has a culinary versatility beyond just beverages, though. Head over to ATXFOODCO. and you'll find sea moss incorporated into various menu items, like spelt and chickpea tortillas, wild blueberry pancakes, and, well, yes, a handful of smoothies. Raad Mansour, founder of ATXFOODCO. and Sea Moss Co., was introduced to sea moss more than seven years ago when he moved to Austin to study plant-based natural healing. Mansour enjoys creatively adding sea moss throughout dishes because he believes it's essential that people eat their minerals. "Sea moss acts as a leavener, so you can incorporate it in baked goods and you're fortifying it with natural minerals that will digest in the body," he says. "So we're creating super foods that are super nourishing and nutrient dense."
Many customers seek out sea moss to help treat an ailment, Mansour says, after not finding relief from Western medicine. "Sea moss becomes this noticeable daily ceremony or ritual that people integrate into their day," he says. "We've had incredible feedback – people share that it makes them feel amazing, and improves digestion."
Mansour says that thousands of people have been served sea moss at ATXFOODCO. and that he thinks it will continue to rise in popularity. "It's been an honor to serve our community and make sea moss accessible and palatable and fun."
Matcha Mama, which opened this past February at the fitness club Equinox Austin, also has sea moss on the menu. It's featured in the acai berry bowl and super smoothie and can be added as a "booster" to any drink. Ryan Rafferty, founder of Matcha Mama, opened the first location in Tulum, Mexico, and started incorporating sea moss into smoothies and selling flavored sea moss gels. "People seemed to really love it and were really interested in it, so when we made the transition to Austin, we obviously wanted to include it on our menu, and we've had a lot of good positive feedback for it," he says.
Rafferty says he certainly sees a sea mossy future here in Austin, with rising demand among people interested in practicing a healthy lifestyle. "I think it's just going to keep growing in popularity," he says. "It tastes really good, especially if you mix it with different fruits and flavors, and you'll probably see it on a lot more menus soon."
Dotson has watched sea moss catch on among her customers and is eager to expand its influence through Austin even further. Next year, she and Rison will be opening a vegan market, where sea moss is sure to be on display. "People will actually be able to go into the market and get their sea moss raw or in gel form, and we'll weigh it out, just like at a deli," she says. "That's going to be a really cool way for people to discover it, because I'm pretty sure they're going to be like, 'What in the world is that that they're weighing?' It's really about educating people on it, and we have a long way to go."