It might seem strange to eat algae that grow in the sea but once you’ve tried it, you won’t turn back. If it’s good enough for the beautiful fishes that live in our oceans, it’s more than good enough for us! I’m sure you’ve seen seaweed growing along rocky shorelines. You might not have thought about eating it, but that’s about to change. Seaweed comes in a variety of beautiful, rich colors, but the most common edible varieties are green.
Edible varieties of seaweed include wakame, kombu, kelp, sea lettuce, nori, and chlorella. The best way to describe the taste of seaweed is perhaps “umami”. Umami is a Japanese term that basically means savoriness. Seaweed has a salty taste and tastes a bit like the ocean, in a good way! It’s commonly paired with fish for this reason. Fortunately for us vegans, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy organic seaweed. You could even pair some organic seaweed with something from our delicious range of vegan seafood alternatives.
How to Use Seaweed
In China, Japan, and Korea, seaweed has been enjoyed as a food since prehistoric times. Seaweed is also a popular food in Iceland, Norway, and coastal regions in the South West of England. Seaweed is an incredibly versatile ingredient and is perhaps best known for its use in Japanese cooking. There are so many great vegan Japanese recipes that use seaweed - try vegan sushi, miso soup, and a simple wakame salad with soy sauce, mirin, and sesame seeds.
How you prepare and cook seaweed depends on the type of seaweed you are using and whether it is dried or fresh. Thanks to seaweed’s amazingly umami flavor, it can lend a savoriness to all kinds of vegan dishes. As well to using it as a seasoning or ingredient, seaweed can be enjoyed alone as a side dish. Let’s look at 3 of the most common edible seaweeds and see what we can do with them. And yes, we admit that most of our ideas are Japan-inspired, as we’re obsessed with the delicate flavors and textures!
You know those deliciously sweet bright green seaweed salads you get at sushi restaurants? That’s wakame. In Japan, wakame is also commonly added to miso soups and salads or eaten as a side dish with a simple dressing. We sell some fantastic products that contain wakame, such as Dr. McDougall’s Miso Ramen Noodle Soup. Try mixing some miso paste in a cup with hot water, and adding a few pieces of dried wakame for a comforting hot drink.
Kombu (also known as kelp) is another popular seaweed eaten in East Asia. Kombu is used to make dashi - a stock that forms the basis for a vast range of dishes in Japan. You can make vegan dashi by omitting the bonito flakes, increasing the kombu content, and adding extra flavor by using shiitake mushrooms. Kelp salads are commonly eaten in China, where the kelp is cut into noodle-like strips and eaten plain or dressed in a spicy soy sauce dressing.
Nori is a purple-red seaweed that we usually see in a dried form (it’s dark green when dried). It’s most often pressed into dried sheets and eaten as a snack or used to make sushi and onigiri (rice balls and triangles). Packs of nori sheets come in different flavors and make an excellent low-calorie, low-carb snack. Dried nori is wonderfully crispy. It tastes salty, smoky, and almost nutty. Try making some vegan sushi rolls with tofu, cucumber, and avocado. You can also break up a sheet of nori and add the flakes to a salad, rice bowl, or stir fry.
The Amazing Health Benefits of Seaweed
Seaweed is considered a superfood. Yes, we’re all a bit sick of the word “superfood” which basically seems like it’s just a marketing term these days, but it is actually based on some facts that are worth knowing. A superfood is one that offers excellent nutritional benefits without many calories. Superfoods are excellent sources of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Whether you buy into the superfood hype or not, there’s no denying that seaweed has a lot of awesome health benefits.
Seaweed has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes as well as culinary. Seaweed is high in dietary fiber, which is thought to help maintain a healthy gut. The fiber in seaweed is a type that gets digested by the bacteria in our gut. Basically, this means that it can act as a prebiotic. Prebiotics promote microbes, which are the compounds that keep our gut healthy. Gut microbes produce short-chain fatty acids, which studies have found to play an important role in the maintenance of good health.
Seaweed is also a good source of vitamin D and vitamin B12, both of which may support our immune system. One study explored the potential of seaweed to help protect us against Covid-19. This was provoked by the fact that the impact of covid in Japan was much lesser than in other countries. It was thought that this may be to do with Japan’s healthy diet, which includes a lot of organic seaweed.
As well as functioning as a prebiotic, seaweed contains omega-3 fatty acids, fucoxanthin, phlorotannins, and fucosterol. Together, these compounds are thought to have antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory potentials. This means that seaweed may offer a range of other potential health benefits. Researchers found that seaweed might support blood sugar management. To put it simply, seaweed is not only delicious but it’s a great source of nutrients and can play a central role in a healthy, plant-based diet.
Seaweed: a Sustainable Food for the Future!
So we’ve covered taste, uses, and health benefits. What more could we possibly say to convince you to incorporate seaweed into your diet? Well, there’s another big reason! Seaweed happens to be one of the most sustainable crops to grow. No weeding, watering, or fertilizing is required to grow seaweed so it’s also incredibly easy. Seaweed even cleans the water it lives in itself!
Kelp is actually one of the few farmed foods in the world that has a POSITIVE environmental impact. It genuinely sounds too good to be true, but we’re certainly not lying! Seaweed supports marine biodiversity and fish habitats as it releases oxygen after absorbing carbon dioxide.
Seaweed is one of the world’s fastest-growing sources of food. If more of us included seaweed in our diet, there could be huge environmental benefits. It really is food that could help us treat our planet with more respect.
And that's a Wrap... Sushi Wrap!
Well, we’ve covered a lot in a short space! We hope we’ve given you an insight into some of the amazing benefits of adding seaweed to your diet. In a nutshell (or seashell?!), we believe seaweed is a food for the future. Its taste is unmatched, and the nutritional benefits are too vast to explore in this little space. Regardless of the benefits for health and the environment, seaweed is an amazingly delicious way to add some umami to your life.
We all know that the climate change crisis is only speeding up. But it can be hard to know what we should eat to play our part in addressing the situation. A plant-based diet is one great way to reduce the environmental impact that meat and dairy farming have. We think including seaweed in your diet is another great way to start collectively building a better future for our precious planet.
Seaweed’s popularity is only going to grow in years to come, so don’t be late to the party! As the Japanese poet Ryunosuke Akutagawa once said,
“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean”.