Sea vegetables, also known as seaweed, are edible forms of algae which grow around the world in both fresh and saltwater. As excellent sources of vitamins and minerals, they have sustained humans around the globe for thousands of years. Sea vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamin K, iodine, folic acid, calcium, magnesium and iron and are believed to have cancer-fighting compounds called lignans. These nutrients support everything from healthy fetal development to thyroid function and bone development.
Foods like yogurt, puddings, salad dressings, and ice cream often contain the algae agar or carrageen, which are used as thickeners. But these forms are highly processed and only add smooth consistency to foods, not any nutritional value. Here are a few other ways to include sea vegetables into your diet.
The easiest sea vegetable to add to your diet is nori, due to the rising popularity of sushi. Nori is the dark green wrapping around the white rice in those ubiquitous California rolls. It is made from shredded algae fibers pressed into molds and dried like paper. It is available in most grocery stores, Asian food stores and natural supermarkets.
In addition to wrapping your favorite seafood and vegetables, nori can stand alone as an easy, nutrient-rich alternative to chips and crackers. For a traditional Japanese snack, toast nori in the oven or on a frying pan on low heat for a few seconds. The black sheets will turn bright green when they are properly toasted. Season with sesame seeds and soy sauce, or sesame oil and salt. You can shred toasted nori to top noodle dishes, soups, and salads.
Dulse can be eaten freshly harvested and sun-dried in its native north Atlantic lands and enhances a wide variety of dishes in powder or flake form. It is high in protein and can season soups, salads, sandwiches, and can be used in casseroles and meat dishes.
Usually sold dried, this sea vegetable resembles thin black noodles. Re-hydrate and add to soups, marinades, or the water used to steam or boil vegetables and fish. You can eat it on its own as a snack. It can also be brewed into tea.
Kombu is a form of kelp that is commonly used as a soup stock base or pickled sweet and sour. You can find it dried or powdered and add it to miso soup or drink as tea. Include it in water when preparing beans to add flavor and minimize the beans’ impact on your digestive system.
This thin, stringy kelp is available dried and re-hydrates within minutes. It has a mild, sweet, versatile flavor that can be added to soups, salads, rice or bean dishes, casseroles, or just about anything.
Another form of mild, sweet kelp, wakame is the slippery, thick, green seaweed that is typically found in miso soup. In addition to its high vitamin content, wakame is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. It makes a hearty side dish, a fresh addition chopped into salad, or a convenient snack when dried and salted.