A+ for Seaweed
By Chelsea Fisher
Seaweed has been used in Asian cooking and Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Seaweed can be a really beneficial addition to your diet. Dried as a snack, crumbled over rice, to make a rich stock, to wrap sushi, or in a salad the possibilities are endless and the health benefits numerous. There are many different kinds of edible seaweed most of which are very high in antioxidants and essential nutrients like iron, iodine, manganese, calcium fiber, protein, and vitamins like A, C, E, K, among others.
Seaweed is often promoted as a “cure” for cancer. Though there has been promising research that seaweed can have an anti-cancer effect, similar to that of other vegetables, there is not conclusive evidence that seaweed on it’s own can fight or cure cancer. It’s best to add it to your diet and enjoy all the wonderful health-promoting nutrients.
Here is a quick guide to the most common types of seaweed for cooking and snacking.
Nori: Nori is what most sushi-loving Americans will be used to. Nori is often used to wrap sushi, and can also regularly be found dried in snack form and in miso soup. Nori is very rich in protein, and one sheet of dried nori has more fiber than a cup of spinach and is also high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Kombu: Kombu is edible kelp. It is often used to make rich-tasting and delicious stocks for soups. Because kombu has so much flavor, one sheet can be used multiple times to flavor stocks. Kombu has been treasured for years as an important source of iodine which helps regulate thyroid function.
Arame: Arame usually comes in dried dark brown strands and is usually reconstituted and added to salads and soups. It has a very mild flavor so can be used in many different ways. It’s a great source of potassium, which is necessary for muscle function.
Wakame: This seaweed is commonly found fresh and tossed with sesame oil in seaweed salad. It often comes in thin green somewhat crunchy strips. It’s mild flavor is also a great addition to soups. Wakame is a good source of calcium and protein.
Hijiki: mild tasting Hijiki, when dried, resembles dark noodles. It can be used in stews, casseroled, salads, and more. Although a great source of calcium and fiber, hijiki, unfortunately, has recently been found to contain high levels of inorganic arsenic and may be harmful if consumed in any quantity. It is best to avoid it and eat other seaweeds instead.
Agar-Agar: Agar-agar is a vegetable gelatin that comes from red agarophyte seasweed. Used all over Asia to make edible jellies and deserts, it is also a staple in research labs where it is used to grow cultures. Agar-agar is a great addition to the vegetarian and vegan diets. It is especially useful for desserts since it has little flavor, and is a perfect way for seaweed novices to start adding it to their meals. Agar-agar is sold in white spongy looking bars, or in powder form.
Seaweed can be an acquired taste, but the minerals and vitamins it adds to the diet brings make getting familiar with it well worth the effort. Many grocery stores now carry seaweed in their health food section. If they don’t have it, look in the macrobiotic section of your local health food store where they will definitely carry everything on our list. Seaweed can also be found at specialty Asian markets.
Most seaweeds are sold dried, and are best stored in an airtight tin. Nori in particular needs to be kept away from moisture. Its thin papery sheets can pick up moisture in a heartbeat, so it’s a good idea to store it with a silicone pack to help keep it dry and crisp. Kombu as noted, is a great base for soups and stocks. Keep any reconstituted kombu in the fridge. Kombu can be re-used up to 3 times before it loses its flavor. After the third time, shred the kombu and add it to your soup.
We love all the health benefits of seaweed and the delicious flavor it can give to soups. It can be great as a condiment too. Try lightly toasting a sheet of nori and crumbling it over plain boiled rice.
Classic Miso soup is made with dashi, a broth that starts off with a large piece of kombu. For a truly nutrient-rich, healthy soup try making Oden, a classic Japanese comfort food. For a more westernized way to use kombu, try making our healthily cooling Watercress and Seaweed Soup. And for dessert, try our Blueberry and Rosemary Kanten and get a simple, sweet intro to agar-agar.