A century-long history of the use of Arctic seaweed in Russia

Russia’s first factory to produce iodine from Laminaria seaweed was opened in Arkhangelsk in 1918. In the following hundred years, the enterprise accumulated knowledge about the useful properties of Arctic seaweed and developed its own technology of seaweed harvesting and processing. Thanks to the discoveries of Russian scientists, anyone can enjoy the health benefits the Russian North offers by using natural cosmetics, superfoods and food supplements manufactured by the enterprise.

The year 1918: Moscow becomes the capital of the Soviet Union, Alexander Blok writes The Twelve, the world’s first regular passenger airline service takes off from Austria, and our country’s first factory to produce iodine from seaweed opens. The world begins rebuilding itself after the First World War, which became the starting point for the development of the algae industry in the Russian North.

By that time, iodine was already known for its antiseptic properties and was used to treat wounds. Before the war, the iodine was mostly supplied by Germany but after the beginning of the campaign, Russia needed to find another source of iodine. Professor at Petrograd University Vyacheslav Tishchenko developed the technology to receive iodine from the Laminaria and Fucus seaweeds that grow in the White Sea. The concentration of useful elements in these algae is higher than in the southern species that were traditionally used in Asian countries.

The source of penicillin and food for besieged Leningrad

The riches of the northern seas were studied by Soviet researchers, including Ksenia Gemp who was born and raised in the Russian North. Starting in 1927, she studied the properties and reserves of algae in the White Sea. Her knowledge became especially relevant during the Second World War: it took her only three months to implement the technology of using seaweed as food in besieged Leningrad. Penicillin that she found in the northern algae saved lives of the wounded soldiers in the Arkhangelsk hospital.

Post-war industrial development

The potential benefits of Arctic seaweed were revealed during the war period. Efforts to utilize this potential began in the late 1940s, with the industrial production of sodium alginate launched in the summer of 1948 and of mannitol in 1949; these substances are used in medicine, pharmaceutics, cosmetology, and the food industry. Over the next twenty years, seaweed processing technologies improved: wooden vats were replaced by stainless steel tanks, and work was done to develop crystallizers, heat exchangers, evaporating bowls, cartridge filters, and other equipment.

Eventually, the scope of manufactured products also expanded – today, they are produced under the AV1918 brand. A production facility with a capacity of 3.5 tons per month was opened to manufacture agar, a vegetable gelatin counterpart and a natural thickener, which is extracted from Red algae and commonly used in confectionery, such as for producing healthy sweets that continue to be manufactured with the use of Arctic algae – marmalade, soufflé, marshmallow and jam.

Science serves to help Chernobyl liquidators

Seaweed benefits were further proven trough substantial studies. In 1979, the enterprise was renamed as Arkhangelsk Experimental Seaweed Factory, with active efforts taken to accumulate scientific resources. Even today, many products manufactured at the plant ranging from to cosmetics undergo clinical trials and boast evidence-based efficiency.

The scientific resources proved useful during the disaster unprecedented in the history of the mankind – the accident that occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986. With the use of knowledge on beneficial properties of alginic acid present in brown arctic algae, specialists managed to promptly develop a therapy for those affected by the accident, including the heroic liquidators. Tests revealed that alginates had prominent anti-radiation properties, managed to decrease the level of cesium and strontium in body tissues by 75%, and specifically targeted vital body systems most heavily exposed to the radiation. And this is how the radioprotective agents Algigel, Kanalgat and other were developed.

Today’s eco-friendly foods and health benefits

The most recent chapter in the history of the Arkhangelsk Seaweed Factory began in 2019, the year when the AV1918 brand was launched. New consumer trends became a key driver of the development as people started appreciating sustainable foods produced through eco-friendly methods. Listed below are the obvious advantages of the products manufactured by Arkhangelsk Seaweed Factory, with its unique, independently implemented production cycle:

1. Wild seaweeds are exclusively hand-harvested, without any damage to plants, to secure natural algae regeneration. The process has remained unchanged for over a century of the company’s history; those who harvest seaweed receive special training. This approach is fundamentally different from methods utilized in other countries, where seaweed is often grown at farms and harvested mechanically.

2. Harvested seaweeds are carefully dried in the sun to preserve a maximum of health benefits for products to be made. Seaweeds are dried in the open air on the islands, which allows for preserving minerals essential for health.

3. Arkhangelsk Seaweed Factory is Russia’s sole enterprise that implements deep processing of seaweed. Unique processing technologies help to preserve a maximum of healthy nutrients during the processing stage, which makes the final product having more health benefits. The factory manufactures pharmaceutical and medicinal substances (such as alginates and mannitol), food and biological additives, ready-to-eat seaweed and seaweed confectionery products, and skin care and beauty products made with algae concentrates and extracts.

Today, everyone can use health benefits of Arctic seaweed, with millions of years of evolution, the century-long history of the enterprise, and work of thousands of people resulting in products manufactured by Arkhangelsk Seaweed Factory.

Despite the expansive scientific resources and advanced technologies for processing Laminaria and Fucus, wild seaweed continue to be collected solely through traditional manual harvesting. The method has remained unchanged for more than a century of the factory’s history and allows for careful preservation of health nutrients in the plant products.

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