In the 17th and 18th centuries, products from brown seaweeds were used extensively in Europe in the glass industry and for soap production.  From the start of the 19th century, macroalgae were used for extraction of iodine and production of tincture of iodine. After the 2nd World War, seaweeds were mainly harvested in Europe for production of hydrocolloids, particularly alginic acid (gelling and thickening agent in food and non-food applications), with the alginate industry becoming established from the 1950s.

Recent developments in biotechnology are accelerating the investigation of seaweed and the high value products that can be generated.