Seaweed, or algae, belongs to a group of plant-like organisms that grow in the sea generally referred to as sea vegetables. There is a long standing role of seaweed in traditional diets and medicinal practices throughout the ages.
Typically found around rocks along the seashore or in sheltered waters, seaweeds are readily available during low tide. These sea vegetables were free for the picking with relatively little danger involved for coastal Indigenous groups.
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This post is in partnership with Mountain Rose Herbs. I have been buying organic herbs, spices, and teas from them for more than a decade and have always been impressed with their commitment to environmental stewardship and high standards of quality. Mountain Rose Herbs has transparent business practices and makes nonstop efforts to promote values in line with the Primal Edge Health approach. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
The Use of Seaweed in Traditional Diets around the world
Many traditional diets contain seaweed in various dishes. In many places the ocean harvested plant was harvested and preserved by drying. Dried pieces were then either broken into smaller parts or ground into powder.
- The Japanese drink kombu tea (recipe), made with either kombu powder or thinly sliced strips of the kelp seaweed.
- A Jamaican Irish Moss Cocktail is a popular drink in the Caribbean Islands flavored with sweetened milk, spices and rum. Follow the recipe here, but use a keto-friendly sweetener in place of the sugar.
- Seaweed soup, “miyeok guk” (recipe), shows up on the table of every meal for months in the homes of new Korean moms. Folklore teaches that seaweed cleanses blood, detoxifies the body, helps the womb contract, and increases breast milk.
- Ancient writings document special Chinese meals, reserved for honored guests and kings, were made from seaweed. Evidence points to a strong kelp trade route from Japan to China.
- In Europe, ancient Greek and Roman cultures used Mediterranean seaweeds as medicine, possibly for parasitic worms.
- Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures cultivated kelp gardens with upwards of 60-70 species of seaweed. Algae is featured in native cuisine, medicine, and ceremonial activity.
- Seaweed is also noted to be an excellent fertilizer and feed for livestock. Today, seaweed and seaweed extracts are part of organic permaculture methods. Scotland and Ireland both have a large seaweed industry.
- Red algae serves as a natural fabric dye in many places.
Pretty much every culture with coastal access throughout history made culinary and practical use of sea vegetation.
What Are the Different Types of Seaweed?
While not all seaweed is edible, those that are have a surprising diversity to them. They are categorized based on their pigments, cell structure, and other traits.
- Green algae such as sea lettuce or ulva
- Brown algae such as kombu, bladderwack, kelp, and wakame (the miso soup seaweed)
- Red algae such as dulse, irish moss, and nori (the sushi seaweed)
- Blue-green algae such as spirulina and chlorella
I recommend purchasing dried flakes or powder from Mountain Rose Herbs (my favorite place for organic herbs, teas, and essential oils!). If you live near an Asian market or Chinatown, you may find a source for fresh seaweed locally. Many local health food stores also carry a variety of seaweed.
While it is hard to get precise numbers on the nutritional content of each type of seaweed, one can safely assume there are numerous minerals available. Seaweed is generally noted to have iodine, magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, zinc, potassium, manganese as well as vitamins A, B, C, and E. Some varieties contain essential fatty acids omega-3 and 6. There are no known anti-nutrients in seaweed.
How to Eat Seaweed (and like it!)
Seaweeds are surprisingly versatile.
Most seaweed is not bitter but not sweet either. There is a subtle saltiness and je ne sais pas.
- My Easy Cheeseburger Pie has been duplicated again and again with different varieties of seaweed
- Excellent in Egg Drop Soup and Creamy Avo Soup and hot homemade bone broth
- Flavor a 3 Cheese Omelette, Scrambled Egg Cups, or any of your other favorite egg based meals
- Burgers with Onion Pan Sauce and extra dulse is a big hit with our children!
- A quick 15-minute meal of Salmon and Garam Masala Summer Squash begs to be rolled in a sheet of nori
- A classic Japanese seaweed salad (recipe) combines a seaweed base with scallions, ginger, and soy sauce (use a keto-friendly sweetener in place of the sugar)
Thick try dried seaweed should be soaked in hot water, and rinsed well before use. Some tougher seaweed like kombu might be best sliced thin or boiled before eating.
Pin it for Later:
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- Traditional Native Foods of Puget Sound
- Seaweed: A Brief History