The Sea’s Perfect Vegetable
Published on February 23, 2017
Last updated January 27, 2021
What You Need To Know:
- Seaweed is like a daily multivitamin, packed with vitamins and minerals
- It’s a sustainable ocean crop, making it a good choice for you and the planet
- There are thousands of tasty and versatile edible species
By Sarah Whitman-Salkin
You’ve eaten seaweed in salad or wrapped around sushi, but did you know that there are many easy-to-get varieties of seaweed that are delicious and loaded with nutrients? Plus, seaweed is a sustainable ocean crop, so eating more seaweed is good for you—and the planet.
“With a rich variety of seaweed species to choose from, there’s a wondrous world of flavors and culinary possibilities waiting to be discovered,” note Lisette Kreischer and Marcel Schuttelaar, authors of Ocean Greens: Explore the World of Edible Seaweed and Sea Vegetables, A Way of Eating for Your Health and the Planet’s. Asian cultures have consumed seaweed since as far back as 2700 B.C., and there’s evidence that the Greeks, Romans, and people in Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland, and Hawaii have been eating seaweed for hundreds of years. Kreischer and Schuttelaar draw on these far-ranging culinary traditions and offer a modern, vegan take on cooking with seaweed and sea vegetables—seaweed tiramisu, anyone?
“More and more, the blue oceans are becoming a green source of both sustainable fuel and tasty food for our future,” writes Schuttelaar. Read on to learn how it’s so healthy and try the authors’ addictive Avocado & ‘Weed Hummus.
WHY THE SEA’S VEGETABLE IS SO GOOD FOR YOU
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to human health: they do everything from support memory to fight depression to lower risk for heart disease. But for those eating a plant-based diet, the essential acids DHA and EPA found in omega-3s can be hard to come by (they’re mostly found in fish). Seaweed is one of the very few plant sources of DHA and EPA. “The type of omega-3s in other plant sources, like flax and walnuts, are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which has to go through another step to be converted in the body to EPA and DHA,” explains New York City-based registered dietitian Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN. “Seaweed, however, does contain EPA and DHA, so it’s a great option for people on a plant-based diet.”
The benefits don’t end with omega-3s. It’s also loaded with vitamin A, for maintaining healthy vision; B1, B2, B3, and B6, for healthy metabolism; and C and E, antioxidants that support the immune system and protect against heart disease.
Then there are the minerals. Many of the minerals our bodies need can be found in meat, so for those eating a vegetarian or vegan diet seaweed is a great source of these essential nutrients. (Seaweed naturally absorbs many minerals from sea water—some varieties of seaweed can consist of 55 percent mineral!) Significant amounts of iodine, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium can be found in seaweed, all of which the body needs in order to maintain balance. Plus, seaweed is mostly water, so it’s incredibly low in calories!
HOW IT HELPS THE PLANET
Seaweed requires very little in order to flourish—it doesn’t need fertilizer or fresh water like nearly every other green growing thing—which makes it an ideal sustainable crop. And in the process of growing it absorbs the ocean’s nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon dioxide, essentially giving seaweed a “negative footprint.” This makes seaweed one of the most environmentally friendly ways we can support the health of our oceans—and our planet. “Because seaweed use CO2 as the basis for building their carbohydrates,” explains Kathy Ann Miller, Curator of Algae at The University of California, Berkeley, “seaweed farms have been proposed as CO2 scrubbers that may mitigate acidification.” Given the abundance and variety of seaweed in our oceans, this is no small possibility.
WHICH VARIETIES ARE TASTIEST?
There are tens of thousands of species of seaweed many of which are edible but here are three common ones:
- Red Seaweed: Nori is the toasted seaweed that’s used in most sushi, and can be used instead of grain-based wrappers on your favorite rolls or cut into bite-sized pieces and used like chips. You can also finely chop nori and toss with popcorn for a delicious snack. Dulse, another red seaweed, can be crumbled into a compound butter and used for cooking or as a savory spread on toast. Dulse can also be fried up and used as a salad topping or eaten alongside eggs—many people say it tastes just like bacon!
- Brown Seaweed: Kombu, a thick brown seaweed, can be added to broth when making soup for a rich, umami flavor. Slip a few sheets of kombu into the water when cooking dried beans or making a stew for added depth.
- Green Seaweed: When you’re looking to add seaweed without the seaweed flavor, try tossing some spirulina or chlorella into a smoothie, whisk a tablespoon into a salad dressing or stir into sauces or soups for a nutritional boost.
Avocado & ‘Weed Hummus
0.14 ounce (4 g) dried sea lettuce
One 15-ounce (425 g) can chickpeas
1 avocado, sliced
1¼ cup (20 g) fresh cilantro
2 small garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons coconut milk
2 tablespoons white tahini
1 tablespoon Thai green curry paste (or 2 tablespoons for extra spiciness)
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Soak the sea lettuce according to the instructions on the package. Drain and thoroughly pat dry.
Drain the chickpeas. Place them in a food processor along with the rest of the ingredients except for the salt and pepper and pulse until smooth. Carefully taste and season with salt and pepper.
Store the hummus in an airtight container in the fridge; it will keep for at least four days.