Vegetables from the garden? So yesterday. If you’re not eating seaweed, you’re missing out on a great, low-calorie source of nutrition and flavor. Edible seaweed isn’t just for sushi, either—although it’s traditionally associated with Asian cuisine (especially Japanese), you can incorporate this nutrient-rich algae into plenty of meals.
It’s briny, delicious and versatile: read on to find out why seaweed deserves a spot at your dinner table.
How seaweed is grown
While not every variety of seaweed is edible, many of them are. Also known as “sea vegetables,” these aquatic plants are often red, green or brown and grown in the ocean. Some seaweed is harvested directly from the ocean, but seaweed farms have become more popular over the years. Today, a significant portion of the seaweed supply is a product of aquatic farms.
Seaweed can be grown at sea or in saltwater tanks. Farmers can grow seaweed on ropes, which makes it easier to observe their growth and “weed” the garden of other plants or unwanted marine life.
Best of all, edible seaweed is sustainable. According to this study, “Since seaweeds grow in many climatic conditions globally, their cultivation has minimal impact on the environment. Seaweeds are increasingly recognized as a sustainable food source with the potential to play a major role in providing food security worldwide.”
Most seaweed is dried to preserve it before it’s shipped out to commercial outlets. Cooks typically rehydrate it in water or broth before eating. However, you might have tried seaweed “crackers”—crisp pieces of seaweed, often seasoned with salt or spices.
Seaweed is considered a superfood: it’s full of omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins A, B12, C and E. It also contains glutamates, an amino acid that give the vegetable its savory, salty umami flavor—that “sixth taste” also found in miso.
What kind of seaweed should I eat?
Here are seven types of edible seaweed to get you started:
- Dulse: This red seaweed is typically found in cold water, including the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Dulse was first harvested in Iceland and Scotland in the middle ages. Its flavor is similar to bacon, and is often crisped in oil. Dulse is often found in soups, chips and powdered seasoning form.
- Hijiki: This brown seaweed looks like thin black twigs when dried. Hijiki grows off the shores of China, Japan and Korea, and is most often used in stir-fry dishes or alongside fish.
- Irish moss: This purple and red tree-like seaweed grows in the Atlantic. It’s full of carrageen, a sugar molecule used as a thickening agent. You’ll typically find it in tapioca.
- Kombu: Kombu is a type of kelp, and is largely found around Hokkaido and the California coast. Kombu is used to create dashi and bonito flakes. It can be rehydrated and hot water and served with mirin (rice wine) and soy sauce. It’s also used to make kombucha—a Japanese tea, not the fermented drink.
- Nori: Nori is also referred to as “purple laver,” due to its dark reddish purple color. It looks green when dried. If you’ve eaten sushi or seaweed crackers, you’ve likely consumed nori. It’s typically eaten dry, or used as a seasoning in powdered form (anonori).
- Sea lettuce: This blue-green seaweed is found near shorelines, and is sometimes called “green nori.” It’s often used in soups or served with meat.
- Wakame: Wakame is found in shallow, coastal waters and kelp forests. This variety is known as “sea mustard.” It’s the type of dark green seaweed you’ll find in miso soup, thanks to its silky texture, sweet flavor and omega-3s.
Get some seaweed in your diet
You can incorporate seaweed into your diet, especially if you’re a fan of Asian foods. For example, seaweed salad is simply rehydrated wakame, shredded carrot and chopped scallions in a soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and ginger dressing. Or make your own dashi, the Japanese broth that forms the basis of ramen.
If you’re not a fan of seaweed on its own, toss some seaweed in your morning smoothie. Depending on how much you use, it could give your smoothie a slight savory kick—or you can mask the flavor with your favorite fruits, coconut milk and more.
However you eat your seaweed, don’t miss out on this flavorful, nutrient-packed and sustainable vegetable.