Seaweed in Traditional Diets (What Types & How to Use It)

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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.

The use of Seaweed in Traditional Diets

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.

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.

  • Traditional Miso soup has seaweed as a nourishing ingredient, specifically kombu or wakame.
  • 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.

Seaweed is naturally low carb and great for the keto diet!

If you are interested in furthering your understanding of holistic health and nutrition I highly recommend you read the books included in the Primal Edge Health recommended reading list.

What Are the Different Types of Seaweed?

Seaweed in Traditional Diets close

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.

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.

I like adding seaweed into many easy keto recipes!

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.


Background photo created by valeria_aksakova –

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