Kelp is the collective name for approximately 300 species of brown seaweeds belonging to the order of Laminariales. Kelps grow close to the surface, in coastal waters and near rocky plateaus, and tend to thrive in colder seas. Kelp is a highly edible sea vegetable which offers unmatched iodine, naturally occuring as well as a wonderful umami flavour. The key is understanding all the different ways we can eat kelp as this makes it much easier to integrate into every day food.
Lets dive in to understand a little more about this nutritional powerhouse and how to eat kelp in different formats and recipes.
What Nutrients and Minerals Does Kelp Offer*?
Kelp has exceptional levels of naturally occuring iodine, which is an essential mineral nutrient required for optimal thyroid health. However it’s not just iodine, but relatively high concentrations of a range of other minerals and trace elements, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc, which can also be found in most kelp species. Brown seaweeds like Kelp, also contain other substances which may be key to resolving degenerative diseases including alginates (detox radiations and heavy metals), fucoidan (associated with cancer prevention and infections), Laminarin (cardio vascular health) and lignans (oestrogen related illness).
What Does Kelp Taste Like?
Kelp is a plant based source of natural umami flavour. As a kelp frond (leaf) dries an amino acid called glutamine rises to the surface of the leaf in the form of a fluffy white powder. This is the very powder the Japanese Scientist who invented monosodium glutamate (MSG), Kikunae Ikeda, was trying to isolate and duplicate in the laboratory. Japanese chefs, and others in the know, believe this naturally salty, umami flavour adds great depth and texture to meals without the need for chemical or highly processed seasonings.
What Health Benefits Can I Enjoy When I Eat Kelp?
Kelp and Thyroid Health
Due to the high iodine level naturally present in kelp, the benefit it is mostly associated with is thyroid health. An optimally functioning thyroid has far reaching health benefits, such as balancing hormones, improved sleep, more efficient digestion, breathing, heart rage, body weight (and metabolism), muscle stregth, menstrual cycles, cholestrol levels, all of which can be impacted by thyroid function. If you or a loved one suffers from hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain crucial hormones, you may want to consider adding kelp to your diet rather than using a syntheitc iodine supplement.
Kelp and Detox/Cleansing
There is also a body of research to support the impact this incredible seaweed can have to remove radioactivity, heavy metals and toxins from the body. It is soothing for the skin and we have even heard reports of our customers using water they have soaked kombu in for regenerative DIY facials and beauty treatments to sooth acne.
Kelp as a Low Sodium Alternative
Additionally kelp has relatively lower sodium than salt so is often used by people as a salt substitute where there aspire to follow a low sodium diet.
Kelp to Reduce Flatulence and Bloating
Kelp is also tenderising so can reduce cooking time and or help to combat digestive gas and bloating. Kelp contains enzymes that break down the indigestible sugars that cause gas formation. When cooking dried beans, add a Kombu strip to the cooking water.
What are the Downsides to Consider When Eating Kelp
On the flip side, if your thyroid is overactive (hyperthyroidism) or you suffer with associated diseases such as Graves Disease, please don’t dramatically increase your intake of kelp without consulting a medical professional first.
Symptoms of an overactive thyroid may include rapid heartbeat, weight loss, increased nervousness, anxiety, sweating, difficulty sleeping to name a few. Before you increase your consumption of kelp we strongly suggest you get a blood test done to check your thyroid level before eating lots of kelp as the naturally high levels of iodine in kelp may exacerbate health issues. We follow these guidelines to determine recommended serving sizes and suggest you pay careful attention to instructions on the packaging. Please note each person is unique so we can never comment on how much iodine you should be consuming per day- we suggest a medical professional is the best place to go to answer this question!
Different Ways to Eat Kelp
Pacific Harvest offers sea kelp, which has been sustainably harvested from the north island of New Zealand and air dried, then hand packed. Ecklonia radiata is the species name. In our opinion this is the tastiest! We test all our seaweeds for contaminants in accordance with the Australia New Zealand Food Code.
We grind Kelp into a kelp powder which makes a wonderful salt substitute for porrige or cooking, or addition to your morning smoothie, or kelp granules which are a slightly higer ground (similar to pepper from a pepper grinder). This tends to be used more as a seasoning – before or during cooking. For your convenience we have added a bit of natural flavouring to our kelp range and also offer an award winning range of ‘flavoured kelps:
- chilli kelp (beautiful as a seasoning or rub for meat),
2. lemon kelp (delicious on chicken or fish) and
3. garlic kelp which we seem to add to most meals insread of garlic powder and or salt.
Kombu is another way to eat Kelp. Kombu is actually the Japanese name for kelp. A kombu strip (just the stem of the kelp plant), or kombu leaf (frond of the kelp) are laid flat and dried in a special way. This is how most Japanese people consume kelp – they use these strips or leaves to make dashi, a broth that serves as a base for many soups and hearty Japanese meals. Kombu is highly nutritious and an excellent base for soups, casseroles and stocks in general, and adds umami flavour and texture to your cooking. The strip is very tough to eat, even when soaked so we suggest avoiding that but Kombu leaves can be wrapped around fish and baked with delectable results!
Please remember you only need to eat a small amount of kelp to get your recommended daily intake (RDI) of iodine!
How to use Brown Seaweeds in Your Cooking and Baking
Here are some ideas to get you started with using kelp in your cooking
- Replace regular table salt with kelp salt – naturally iodised new zealand sea salt (check out our refill pack)
- Sprinkle Kelp instead of salt on food; it tastes salty & provides a better balance of minerals. Use our award winning seasoned kelp range (available in chilli, garlic or lemon) as a marinade or rub.
- Use Kombu when cooking beans & pulses – it aids digestion & reduces cooking time, tenderising.
- Make seaweed stock with Kombu: it is quick, easy, healthy & delicious or use it to wrap fish and meat parcels and bake.
Visit our recipe section for more ideas on how to eat more kelp!
Eat the Seaweed Rainbow!
Before we go, whilst we love kelp, it is still possible to eat kelp as part of a mix of other seaweeds which may give you the benefits of kelp without the high iodine levels. Experiment with some of our blends which also contain brown seaweeds – our furikake (seaweed seasoning) seasoning range includes kelp as the brown seaweed.
*Note: The nutritional content of seaweeds can vary depending on a number of factors including where they are harvested from, which part of the season they are harvested, how they are dried and more. The indicated minerla and nutrients in this article are gathered from a number of journals and published books on seaweeds over the years are are intended as a guide only. Please refer to specific nutritional panels on each product you purchase for more information.
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 & individual needs & requirements.