It’s used extensively in Asian cuisine, and its cultivation is a major industry in many Asian countries. Ancient cultures all over the world made good use of it as a food source.
Nowadays, we know it as a primary ingredient in sushi, the source of agar jelly, and the ‘gum’ used as a thickening agent in a lot of foods, even in ice cream.
Perhaps a little less known is its use in cosmetics, fertilisers and medicine.
It comes in an incredible variety of shapes, colours and forms. What am I talking about?
Bet you’ve already guessed: it’s seaweed.
We really should not call it a ‘weed’. The very name connotes something not useful, a nuisance that should be eliminated. Actually, it has a lot of uses and valuable properties, apart from being a very tasty and nutritious food. Sea plants would probably be a better word?
Because I spent many years living in Asia, I got to appreciate how delicious seaweed can be. Some of my favourite food is seaweed salad, seaweed soup and nori sheets. Seaweed in noodle dishes, and as an additional ingredient with mussels, cooked in a broth of butter, garlic and white wine, is truly scrumptious. You can even bake fish in kelp pockets. I once had a fresh seaweed salad in a Japanese restaurant, made from at least four varieties of seaweed. Not only was it very attractive, but it tasted like nothing I had ever eaten (not at all like the often highly coloured green stuff in supermarkets labelled “seaweed salad”), with incredible textures and subtle flavours, and lovely tangy little bursts of seawater that exploded your mouth every so often when I bit into one of the tiny “floats”. I’ve only ever found it that once, even though I excitedly pored over the menu of all Japanese and Korean restaurants I visited after that, looking for the same dish. I think I am quite happy to eat only seaweed, and not fish!
I wonder why we treat our approach to the sea so differently to land? On land, we have learned that it is not a good idea to upturn an entire forest, just to get at the birds and animals living in it. We no longer wide scale hunt wild creatures for food, having learned that it is better to farm them (besides the point that there just aren’t enough wild animals left in the world to eat). We know that it is better for our health to consume more fruit and vegetables, and limit our protein intake.
But when it comes to the sea, we continue to hunt the last vestiges of the large wild creatures of the sea, we continue to trawl the sea bottom, destroying what has taken years to grow, and all the ecosystems associated with it. And in proportion, largely ignore the plant life, its health benefits and fast growing, sustainable and portable properties, in favour of the fast-diminishing, protein-based creatures that inhabit it.
If I was a clever fishing company, I think that about now, I’d be thinking of what I could do to diversify, to enable my business to continue growing in the future. You only need to visit an Asian food store or restaurant to see the potential of seaweed, and what delicious foods you can make with it…
In fact, from what I have read, there are moves afoot to develop the seaweed industry in New Zealand, particularly karengo, which is the New Zealand equivalent of nori.
Most New Zealand seaweed is edible, including the varieties you see pictured here. I haven’t yet tried Neptune’s necklace (below), but the red seaweed above is absolutely delicious – it tastes like the sea vegetable version of mussels. I rinsed it in clean water and ate it raw. Yum! The eldest boy told me I was a freak. Hehe!
I grew up in Tauranga, where it is very abundant and becoming quite a pest. When I was a girl, large blooms were commonly associated with sewage run-off, so I was never really tempted to eat it. Nowadays, research indicates that the weather is blamed for its abundance, instead of pollution (although excess nutrients in the water do contribute to enhanced growth). But imagine if instead of the bloom being seen as a nuisance, its advent was welcomed with annual excitement, and it was harvested with abandon to be made into tasty food!? Maybe even a seaweed festival coming out of it? Instead of people groaning at the cost to ‘clean it up’, there would be people paying money to have a permit to harvest it!
Seaweed is not only tasty, but it has excellent health benefits. In New Zealand especially, we should be eating more of it – seaweeds are rich in the minerals that are deficient in New Zealand soil.
I believe that with proper care and management of our oceans, we can continue to enjoy the bounteous wonders and flavours of the sea. We just might have to cultivate our palates a little more, to make room for yet more delicious flavours and textures!
As you might have guessed, this post is also the introductory thought behind my latest design. Watch out for the Ulva Lactuca shawl pattern tomorrow – my Christmas present to you. 🙂
I came across some very interesting sites about seaweed when I was researching for this article. Have a look at some of these links to find out more fascinating facts about, and recipes for seaweed: