Is seaweed a superfood?
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.
Nori is a dark purple colour before it’s toasted and turns green. Nori has the highest level of protein (and one of the lowest levels of sodium) of all seaweeds, making it ideal for vegans and vegetarians alike. Nori also helps break down fats, decrease cholesterol levels and reduce high blood pressure. Plus it’s high in fibre, iodine, vitamin B12 and potassium.
Besides wrapping sushi, nori can be cut into strips and eaten as a snack. It is also traditionally used to garnish rice and noodle dishes, soups, salads and stirfrys.
Nori, avocado & cucumber salad
Cut the nori into squares and chop the avocado and cucumber into cubes. Combine the nori, cucumber and avocado with sesame and pumpkin seeds. Make a dressing of soy sauce, rice vinegar and brazilnut oil. Season to taste. Serve with grilled tofu or white fish.
Hijiki looks like black, wiry spaghetti and has a unique but mild flavour. According to Japanese folklore, eating hijiki regularly gives the Japanese thick, black, glossy hair. But hijiki does more than beautify hair. Its high calcium content will also keep bones, teeth and nails in top shape. Hijiki is also high in fibre, helps to regulate sugar levels and purifies the blood of damaging toxins.
Hijiki is best soaked for 10 minutes when it expands to roughly three to five times its dried size. Then it needs to be cooked for about 10 minutes. It tastes delicious with tofu, fish, rice or lightly cooked root vegetables.
Hijiki rice salad
- Soaked hijiki
- Crushed ginger and garlic
- Soy sauce
- Pinch sugar
- Sesame oil
- Japanese rice or short-grain brown rice
- Sesame seeds
Boil the rice until cooked and leave to cool. Gently fry the soaked hijiki, ginger and garlic in the sesame oil. Add a touch of sugar, soy sauce and a little water. Saute for about 10 minutes. Combine the rice, hijiki mixture and sesame seeds. Serve with grilled or panfried tofu or fish.
Arame is one of the mildest and lightest of the seaweeds. But, like all vegetables of the sea, it’s packed with nutrients. This delicious sea vegetable is great if you suffer from fatigue, lethargy or frequent infections, as its high iron content is energising and immune boosting. Arame is also known for its anti-cancer properties. It is high in fibre and a great source of calcium, riboflavin, magnesium and potassium. Arame is an ideal addition to all kinds of salads.
Roasted winter seaweed salad
- 1 pumpkin or squash
- Handful rocket
- Handful pre-soaked arame
- Sliced cucumber
- Dried chilli
- Toasted pumpkin seeds
- Olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- Pinch sugar
Season the pumpkin with salt, pepper, dried chillies (ground them between your fingers) and a pinch of sugar. Add the olive oil and roast in the oven for 35-50 minutes on a high temperature. Combine the rocket, cucumber and arame. When the pumpkin is ready, add to the salad and sprinkle with the toasted pumpkin seeds.Dress with an olive oil and lemon dressing or a Japanese soy dressing.