Spotting fake sea moss is really quite easy once you know how. Here I’ll walk you through how to spot fake sea moss with four simple tips. The main things I look for on the surface is the presence of large grains of processed salt, a lack of imperfections that occur naturally, and signs of chemical interference.
I have been around the seaweed space for quite some time now, and often visit seaweed farms and engage with people in the industry. With a trained eye it is easier to spot these things quickly. So I’m going to share with you what I have learned over the years. But before that, we need to look at some popular beliefs around fake, or pool grown, sea moss.
Where did the Fake Sea Moss story get it’s momentum?
Going back to 2011, Dr. Sebi took the stage and addressed an audience in the Bahamas which was waiting with bated breath. He spoke of the challenges of fake sea moss, and how to spot what he referred to as fake sea moss. This was quite some time ago, and I want you to keep in mind that the world of marine biology doesn’t sleep.
For years now I have been immersed in the world of seaweed, and seaweed cultivation. Here, I’ll break down some of the things I know that you need to look for so you know you’re getting real sea moss.
One of the first things is knowing what real sea moss is. There is a lot of conjecture and mislabeling of products in the market.
What is sold as Chondrus Crispus on some packages is actually closer to Gracilaria or Kappaphycus Alvarezii. The sea moss that is well known and has it’s metaphorical roots in the Caribbean is not Chondrus Crispus.
Note: the below is a snapshot of a handful of listings that are using the incorrect botanical name. Identifying features on these listing have been blurred out to protect the identity of the Sellers.
Sebi spoke about sea moss at length, and in the video below, her refers to it as being scientifically known as Chondrus Crispus. Pay particular attention to what you see at about 4:09 in on the video, and make your own judgement call.
In a previous article where we looked at what sea moss is good for I wrote about the differences between these seaweeds, which is also worth researching for yourself.
A word of advice though, as great as a resource as Wikipedia is, anyone without appropriate credentials can create an entry or edit an entry. Look to the university studies and marine biology websites and resources for a true reference point.
How Much Sea Moss is Grown in Pools?
There is some truth about the quality of pool grown sea moss. When it is grown in pools it is not able to get the benefits of the natural ebb and flow of the ocean.
This means that the exposure to naturally occurring minerals is more or less eliminated. The sea moss is restricted to whatever happens to be added to the tank or pool. These tend to be manufactured fertilizers in some cases. In other cases, a mineral dense substrate is added to the bottom of the pool.
You may have read about sea moss farms replicating the motion of the ocean with machinery. Sebi spoke of them being able to grow crops of sea moss faster in tanks in Boston than in the ocean.
Growing sea moss this way is possible to do, and it is applied in some areas. But when compared to traditional sea moss farming that takes place in the open ocean, it is a comparatively unsustainable and expensive process.
The cost of running a system like is typically not profitable when compared to what Mother Nature can do. Pool growing of sea moss that is intended for human consumption is not as widely applied as many of us would be led to believe. Most is for animal consumption.
Increasing challenges related to land area, quality and suitability are seeing this practice lose considerable ground when compared to sustainable ocean farming practices.
At the end of the day, the people in the seaweed industry are subject to the same principles of business as the rest of us. Low or no profit means the flow of dollars (or pesos, rupiah, dong, or yen, whatever the currency may be) is acutely felt by the business, and the doors soon close.
Where does most of the Sea Moss come from?
The vast majority of sea moss commercially available on the market nowadays is grown in the open ocean. You can see this in some areas if you use Google Earth. Sea moss farms are quite easy to spot.
Seaweed farming techniques in the past 20 years have improved dramatically. The application of more advanced engineering has allowed for the development of floating farms that are equipped with features that allow for the reduction in crop loss, while still getting the full benefit of being ocean harvested.
This has resulted in a natural attrition in the percentage of tank or pool grown sea moss. But it is still out there, which is why it’s important to know how to spot fake sea moss.
How do I Identify Fake Sea Moss?
Here are some easy ways to spot fake sea moss that we’ve used over the years. These are based on what we have learned from visiting and working with Seaweed Farmers in many countries.
Tip 1 – The Perfect Look
Does your sea moss have that perfect look? Meaning, is it all roughly the same size and thickness?
Sea moss grows in a distinct way. You’ll know pool grown compared to ocean harvested based on the look.
It’s a bit like being able to tell the difference between home grown or organic vegetables and the commercially grown vegetables you buy at the store.
Real sea moss that is grown in the open ocean will be thicker in some parts than others. It will also have some variations on the length and density of the thallus.
These variations can come about as a result of many different things. Keep in mind that the sea moss is not just a food source for you. It’s primarily a food source for marine animals.
You may see little nobbly bits on your sea moss, particularly at the ends. This is a sign that crustaceans, fish, and possibly even sea turtles have been nibbling the tender young shoots while it has been growing.
Tip 2 – The Salt Grains
There will be surface salt that naturally occurs, but it’s the size of the salt grains, and the taste that really gives this away.
Sea moss soaks up the salt water it grows in. And as a result, when it dries, this shows up on the surface.
Is your sea moss lightly dusted with salt that is as fine as icing sugar? If it is packaged with grains of salt that look more like rock salt, or table salt, chances are it’s fake.
There’s also a very distinct difference in the taste of natural sea salt and processed salt. Try them and see for yourself.
Tip 3 – Other Seaweed with it
Real sea moss that is grown in the ocean will occasionally have a stray piece of another type of seaweed with it. Our Quality Control Team work very hard to make sure that this is kept to the lowest possible level.
After harvesting, any other seaweed that has been caught up in the sea moss crop are picked out. Sometimes a few little whispy bits can still be found on the sea moss, but this is rare.
In pools and tanks there are no other species of seaweed, just sea moss. Pools also lack sand and the occasional, what we call ‘sea dirt’, which can be found on sea moss.
Think of sea dirt as the very light silt that can be kicked up in the ocean during rough waves, storms or surface activity. This can settle on the sea moss, and during the growing stages, the Seaweed Farmers tend to the crops by washing as much of this off as they can.
A heavy build up of this sea dirt sediment can cause the plant to suffer. Think of it this way, it blocks the sun and inhibits photosynthesis, which can be thought of as like a type of suffocation. This can then lead to other complications and the introduction of disease to the crop.
Example: Ice Ice
Again, after harvesting, our Team diligently check for sea moss that has too much sand or sea dirt on it. This is set aside and used to give back to the environment. More about that later…
Other than these tips, most consumers won’t be able really spot fake sea moss from the real thing. Not unless they have the sea moss assessed in a laboratory for things like vitamins, minerals and other things.
Tip 4 – Differences in color or tone
Authentic sea moss which has been allowed to grow naturally in the ocean may have some color variations, or slight differences in tones. Knowing how to spot fake sea moss is really easy with this tip.
If you’ve got a batch of sea moss that is all the same color, it may be fake, or worse still, bleached. Sea moss naturally comes in a few different colors. This is a result of where it is grown, and some slight species variations in the seaweed family. This means that for it to be golden white it has required some processing.
This processing is typically a simple application of exposure to sunlight. Depending on the color of the sea moss, it can often have some tonal variations after the sun drying stage.
But how is the color changed? It’s a simple process to take sea moss from being olive green, purple, brown, red, yellow or a warm orange to the golden white color you’re familiar with. This requires no chemicals when done properly, just controlled exposure to the direct sunlight to sweat out the color.
Where bleaching has been applied there’s a consistent white look to the sea moss. No little darker patches, no pieces that are more fawn than golden white. It looks very processed.
These color variations after sun drying come from the sea moss growing in natural conditions where it is exposed to slight variations in light, temperature and water movements.
Tank farmed sea moss will typically not have these variables as it is grown in an extremely controlled conditions. There’s no room for nature to create such noticeable differences.
How Common is Fake Sea Moss?
As touched upon before, fake sea moss isn’t as common as you might be led to believe. Globally, the rise of seaweed farming in the ocean is on the increase. Pool grown sea moss in the laboratory like conditions that Sebi cautioned us about is not able to compete with the awesome power of Mother Nature and the Ocean.
What is more common is the lower grade quality of sea moss that is intended for animal consumption or industrial application being sold as food grade for human consumption. This is the present threat that if faced today in by companies sourcing high quality sea moss.
This lower grade sea moss is grown in the ocean, but not the quality of waters that you would be happy to have your sea moss grown in. Often, it is in areas that are close to commercial ports send harbors, or waters that are polluted by various types of run off, or in the line of currents from ocean dead zones.
Knowing more about the conditions of the waters is vital so that you know you are getting a clean, and mineral dense supply of sea moss.
There is almost heated debate about the merits of various types of sea moss, with a strong cohort beating the drum for wildcrafted sea moss; but at what cost?
Where does the Confusion Come From?
With people moving around the planet for generations there have been multiple cases of terminologies being transported with them. Languages have constantly been in a state of flux, and we tend to have slightly different names for the same thing.
For example, cilantro is the same thing as coriander, garbanzo beans are the same thing as chick peas, and amaranth is the same thing as callaloo.
As mentioned in the opening, the name sea moss has been applied to different types of seaweed. Through marketing and advertising we have lost a dimension of the truth in this matter. What is known as sea moss is actually a completely different thing to Chondrus Crispus.
Being a generic term, what Sebi was originally talking about as a species was not Chondrus Crispus. Did you take a look at the video above? What were your conclusions when you compared this to what you see in the phycology journals?
Why is most Sea Moss Golden or White?
Due to a range of factors (too many to go into here), Seaweed Farmers and companies involved in the harvesting and processing of sea moss opted to treat their crops before putting them on the market. The golden or whiteish color of the commercially available sea moss is what people have come to know and expect.
This is able to be achieved in most cases during the drying process without the need for any bleaches or other harmful chemicals. it’s typically a simple process of sweating the color out of the sea moss with the aid of the sun.
This can be done through a number of methods, but typically the use of plastic sheeting is applied. The sea moss is left to sit in the full heat of the sun while covered by clear plastic and what takes place is it changes from the original color to a translucent white.
Sun Bleaching Sea Moss
Take a look at this on our Instagram before it was exposed to the sun and the color had dropped out.
Once the cover is removed, it then dries further, which locks in any tonal or color variations. A solid color that runs through your sea moss isn’t a bad thing. It may have been a consistently sun-bleached plant. If it is very white, like paper, then it’s probably been bleached. Even though this isn’t necessarily key to knowing how to spot fake sea moss, it will help you.