Seaweed is a significant part of the diets of millions of coastal people around the world. If the only seaweed you eat is the nori encircling your sushi, it’s time to level up.
Rather than the slimy stuff that squishes between your toes at low tide, think of seaweed as water-loving kale—a nutrient-dense gift from the sea. (Way to bring your A-game, Atlantic!) As they move with the ebb and flow of ocean currents, seaweeds soak up important nutrients, including iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and their signature mineral, iodine, important for proper thyroid functioning. Seaweeds are also a source of phytochemicals just begging for more research on their healing powers. And if you reel in a seaweed like dulse from East Coast waters, you’ll also soak up the heart-healthy omega-3 EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).
The culinary bonuses are notable too. Since seaweed is swimming in glutamates—the building blocks of umami—it can add a lot of om-nom-nom to anything it touches. And, oh, those great textures! Start with these recipes that will make you see seaweed in a different light: as a delicious, briny vegetable.
Rehydrate with care
Once harvested, seaweed is typically dried to dramatically prolong shelf life before being packaged.
To rehydrate for recipes, place parched seaweed in a bowl, cover with cool water and soak for two to 10 minutes. (The longer it soaks, the more tender it will become.) Drain, squeeze out excess water and chop down to desired size.
Remember that dried seaweed can swell to several times its size when soaked, so don’t give an entire bag a bath at once, unless you want your kitchen to turn into a snorkeling destination.
A dozen ways to savor seaweed
Readily available packages of dried seaweed should definitely be part of your world.* Here’s how to make that happen.
- Sprinkle dried seaweed flakes like dulse on salads, mashed potatoes, warm grains, roasted root vegetables, stir-fries, pizza and popcorn.
- Rehydrate and chop seaweed like hijiki or arame to toss with salad greens or use in slaws.
- Grind dry seaweed using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, and then whisk with sesame oil, rice vinegar, minced garlic, lemon zest and sea salt for an ah-mazing salad dressing.
- Sneak chopped rehydrated seaweed into pasta or lentil salads.
- Slip pan-roasted dulse into sandwiches (like a vegan version of the classic BLT!).
- Add chopped nori to trail mix.
- Use a strip of kombu (aka “nature’s MSG”) to flavor broths and bean-based stews.
- Add rehydrated seaweed to a bowlful of cooked soba noodles, tofu cubes and sautéed vegetables.
- Blitz a few nori sheets in your food processor and mix into cornbread batter.
- Stir dulse flakes and ginger powder into peanut butter and slather on toast or celery.
- Blend ground dried seaweed into dips for a “what’s that?” flavor twist.
- Slice nori into small pieces and heat over medium heat in a skillet with sesame seeds until it is fragrant and the seeds have browned. Stir in sesame oil and use as a garnish for grains and soups.
Is seaweed sustainable—and safe?
Unlike the vast majority of other foods we eat, seaweed requires zero inputs of fresh water or fertilizer to grow, making it a sustainable addition to your diet. But sea vegetables, like fish, can soak up toxins like heavy metals from surrounding waters.
Purchase wisely by seeking out bags of dried organic seaweed from natural grocers. To be certified organic, seaweed needs to meet specific guidelines, like not being harvested near industrial-waste drainage sites. Or, find a brand that plucks wild seaweed only from unfouled waters using sustainable harvesting methods that shun destructive large machinery.
You can also find out if a company runs laboratory tests for the presence of contaminants in their product. A North American-grown crop may offer improved quality control compared to those from overseas.