For Western cultures, ‘seaweed as a food’ can be a slightly foreign concept, other than as an ingredient in a delicious sushi, or miso soup, perhaps a coloured seaweed salad. Knowing where to start using seaweed regularly, in our existing dietary habits, can seem slightly daunting.
You may be surprised to learn that before World War One, most coastal communities ate seaweed to supplement their diet, used it as medicine, building material and fertiliser for their crops. The Japanese, who typically consume a large amount of seaweed per capita (especially in Okinawa), have been studied for their longevity and the minimal impact lifestyle diseases have had on their communities.
We advocate for the return to nutrient-rich foods, to give our bodies the materials required to keep us healthy. Wholesome foods grown in soils are great but can be missing in critical elements, due to over-cultivation, erosion & lack of proper nourishment. However, the sea has an abundance of nutrients and minerals, and plants growing in the ocean have the mechanisms to absorb these nutrients and concentrate them. Provided we are careful to choose uncontaminated seaweed, eating it provides nourishment and a rich nutritional value.
Recently, seaweed has been hailed as a ‘superfood’! We concur! Here are our top tips for getting the most out of seaweeds in your kitchen:
- Generally speaking, seaweeds do not need to be cooked. Pacific Harvest’s seaweeds are raw and contain all the nutrients naturally present in the sea. Cooking seaweed reduces it’s nutritional value because some nutrients (especially enzymes & some vitamins) are affected by heat. There are a few exceptions to this such as Kombu, which is usually heated to make stock, kelp seasonings used to flavour and tenderise food whilst cooking, and Agar, which needs to be ‘melted’ in order to engage its ‘jellifying’ properties. When you re-hydrate seaweed in tepid water (rather than hot), or add it at the end of cooking, you preserve nutrients that will nourish your body.
- Most seaweeds re-hydrate in minutes. Only thicker plants such as Kombu or Sea Spaghetti require additional time – perhaps 30 minutes. It helps to use tepid water instead of cold water.
- Seaweed will expand about 5-10 times when you re-hydrate them, a little goes a long way. Consume fairly soon after re-hydrating (as per packet instructions). Take care to only re-hydrate what you need for the meal and experiment with small amounts first until you get used to how each variety expands
- The water you soak your seaweed in to re-hydrate it is highly nutritious and can be used in a variety of ways including smoothies, soups or stocks.
- You can change the taste of seaweed by soaking it in a flavoured liquid. The seaweed will pick up the flavour of whatever it is hydrating in, especially if you soak it for longer. In this winter fruit salad, the Sea Spaghetti is soaked overnight in kirsch or alternatively in a fruit tea, which lends it a sweet flavour!
- Seaweeds are hygroscopic – this means they will absorb moisture from surrounding ingredients. If you are using seaweed flakes, such as Dulse flakes sprinkle them with a little water prior to using, unless you are using them to garnish and add flavour to a soup for example.
- Stored well, in a dry, cool and dark place, dried seaweeds can last for years.The complex salts that are part of their make-up act as natural preservatives and keep bugs & fungus away
- Seaweeds recover their original texture when re-hydrated: unlike land plants, seaweeds have a mechanism that allows them to recover their original texture from their dried state (if they have been dried naturally). In the ocean, seaweeds are regularly exposed at low tide, dry out somewhat under the sun but fully recover when the tide comes up!
- Seaweeds ‘taste salty’ because of the abundance of minerals they contain (calcium, magnesium, potassium etc…+60 of them!): all seaweeds have some amount of sodium but far less than salt so can be an excellent salt replacement option, especially since seaweeds also contain potassium, which keeps the sodium content in balance. Salt cravings are often a sign your body needs more nutrients – seaweed is the perfect solution! Brown seaweeds tend to have higher sodium content, but still a small amount compared to salt. If you prefer a less salty flavour, simply rinse or soak the seaweed a little longer prior to cooking. Seaweeds are an excellent source of umami flavour,
- Seaweeds come in a variety of colours, textures & tastes and have unique nutritional profiles. Just as we understand a range of colours are required when eating land vegetables, we recommend eating red, green and brown seaweeds. Read how to get started with seaweed
and digest the amazing health benefits of seaweeds below!
Disclaimer: This material is provided for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is generic and should be verified by a qualified health practitioner for specific and individual needs & requirements.