When it comes to seaweed, most of us think of the rubbery brown sludge that gets caught between our toes while swimming in the ocean. It’s not something you’d want to find at the dinner table. Yet seaweed’s dense mineral content and delicious taste have been enjoyed from the corners of south Wales to the edge of Eastern Japan since the 6th century BC.
Sadly, modern food culture has generally turned its nose up at the thought of eating the harvest of the sea. Yet if ever a food should be called super, this is it. Not only has recent research discovered that brown seaweed, such as wakame, can help in keeping your weight down (especially around the stomach), but seaweeds are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat. In fact, they’re so healthful that you only need to eat them in small amounts to get their full nourishing benefits. And, unlike other sea life, seaweed does not absorb many toxins and pollutants that contaminate so many of our fish.
Kelp is the broad name given to many varieties of seaweed. It’s often thick, dark and long (it can grown up to 200 feet). Kelp is known to reduce cancer and could be one of the reasons kelp-loving Japanese women have such low levels of breast cancer. Kelp is also the richest source of iodine of all the sea vegetables. Iodine is essential for protecting the thyroid and for brain health and is also useful for calming nerves and keeping you slim. Like most seaweeds, kelp purifies the body of toxins and radioactivity. It’s also high in fibre, reduces cholesterol and is a mighty source of iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium and vitamin K.
Kelp is generally available in powdered form and is used as a seasoning. It’s also available as a supplement. However, some types of kelp are sold dried and are delicious soaked then baked in foil with white fish and a little lemon. Serve with a honey and lemon sauce (simply combine the two ingredients and a little seasoning).
If vegetarians should be tucking into just one seaweed, it should be dulse, not least for its B vitamins. A handful of this red, chewy but slightly spicy seaweed contains the total RDA of vitamin B6, over half of the RDA of vitamin B12 and is rich in all other B vitamins. Dulse is also a great iron-provider, all of which makes this sea plant an excellent anti-stress and anti-anxiety energy booster.
Dulse can enhance mental alertness, help lower cholesterol and keep your arteries in good shape. Dulse is also packed with iodine and is a good source of manganese, vitamin A and potassium. Dulse works wonderfully in salads or broths. For a nutritious treat, ditch the potato crisps and try deepfried dulse.
Heat sunflower oil to 180ºC, then add dried dulse straight from the pack. After cooking, drain off excess oil on kitchen roll. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and ground sesame seeds.
A natural detoxifier, kombu is rich in alginic acid, which cleanses the body of toxins and wastes. Just like its close relative kelp, kombu is high in iodine, fibre, potassium and protein. And, because of its strong magnesium and calcium content, it helps to promote strong bones, teeth and nails.
Traditionally, kombu needs to be soaked for a few minutes before cooking or using to flavour Japanese soups, noodle broths and stocks, including dashi, which forms the base of many Japanese soups and sauces. Kombu is also great added to beans and legumes as it enhances their mineral content and increases their digestibility (no more beany farts).
Boil up 1 strip of kombu per litre of water and a selection of lightly flavoured vegetables such as carrots and potatoes. Simmer for about 30 minutes, add bonito flakes and strain. Season with soy sauce and ginger.
Wakame is the dark green seaweed you find in miso soup. It works to give your body a nutritious spring clean by purifying the system and helping to keep you slim. It’s also a great food for diabetics as it balances blood sugar levels. High in calcium, it keeps you calm, protects bones and promotes glowing skin. A daily dose of wakame will also up your intake of protein, iron, iodine, magnesium and antioxidants.
Like kombu, wakame increases the digestibility of beans and legumes and it only needs to be soaked for a few minutes (it’ll expand up to 10 times its dried size) before cooking. Then remove the indigestible tough spine before adding it to soups or salads. Like most green seaweeds, it’s a great accompaniment to baked fish or a plate of steaming noodles.