Seaweed: Why this type of sea food is the future

  • An underappreciated health elixir that we should all be eating more of – it doesn’t need water or soil to grow!
  • The surprising benefits of sea lettuce, laverbread and sushi
  • Alternative tips for getting this sustainable superfood into your diet

When you think of the British seaside you might conjure up images of sand, sea, buckets ‘n’ spades…

And rain, of course.

You probably also think about the smell.

That rotten, salty, eggy whiff.

It’s so evocative, even if it can seem a little horrible at times.

What you are smelling is not the scent of the salty sea but decomposing seaweed, which releases sulphurous gasses.

In England, a lot of people baulk at the idea of eating the stuff, because it’s slimy and it stinks so much.

But the living aquatic plant itself is far from the eggy decomposing slime that we associate with seaweed.

It is packed with nutrients including antioxidants, along with vitamins A, C, E and B12. Many forms of seaweed also contain anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial agents.

There is even some evidence that they contain powerful cancer-fighting agents.

And there isn’t just one plant called “seaweed”, but many varieties in all kinds of shapes, textures and colours.

This is why the word “seaweed” is rather unhelpful.

It suggests something damaging, disgusting and horrible to eat.

This is just not the case.

In fact, in June this year, Vincent Doumeizel, a UN advisor, urged we Brits to stop calling it “seaweed” and instead use the term “sea vegetable.”

It is a more accurate way to describe this nutritious and abundant source of food, eaten by human beings across the world for thousands of years.

Doumeizel pointed out that it was one of the reasons why the human brain grew so big when we evolved.

It was a staple in the diet of the Maoris in New Zealand and for many Native American tribes, and an essential food for the Vikings, who took it on their ships to sustain them across long distances.

And there are plenty of contemporary examples too…

A traditional health elixir enjoyed from Wales to Japan

The Welsh traditionally eat laverbread, made from orphyra umbilicalis, a form of seaweed that flourishes on the west coast.

It is rich in vitamin D, which helped sustain miners who worked for long hours in darkness underground.

There’s a seaweed known as Irish moss, a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower our risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

And there’s wakame, which is eaten in East Asia, linked to lower blood pressure, hormonal balance and better bone skin and hair health.

If you enjoy Japanese sushi, you’ll know about nori, which is dried and pressed into sheets, so that the rice and fish can be wrapped inside. Nori is a source of iodine, which can help keep your thyroid healthy.

They say that eating sushi (wrapped in nori) once a week could be beneficial for thyroid problems – but eating it every day could upset the balance and actually cause more problems.

(Although I am sure few of my British readers are daily sushi eaters!)

The Japanese are huge eaters of sea vegetables – one of which is sea lettuce.

This is packed with all kinds of goodness, including chlorophyll, an anti-inflammatory that can combat free radicals.

It’s eaten in huge amounts in Okinawa, for example, whose residents are found to be 82% less likely than the average American to suffer from coronary heart disease.

Sea lettuce is also rich in vitamin A in the form of beta carotene and gamma carotene, which could help reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.

This is why this form of seaweed has been linked to longer life.

But how can you get more sea vegetables into your diet if you’re not into sushi or laverbread?

Here are a few ideas…

Tips for getting this superfood into your diet

You can eat seaweed raw by turning it into a salad and adding a dressing of rice wine vinegar and sesame oil.

Or you can use seaweed flakes as seasoning to reduce your reliance on salt – for example, adding it to mashed potato, scrambled eggs and soups.

It has a really, nice and deep “umami” taste too, so it works well in pasta sauces and stews.

You could take seaweed and make a pesto out of it – instead of using basil, use kombu or wakame.

It’s also possible to make delicious stocks from dried seaweed which you can use as a base for seafood risottos or to cook mussels.

Just remember that this is a naturally salty ingredient, so don’t add seasoning until you’ve tasted your dish.

There is a final benefit to eating seaweed.

A sustainable ingredient for the future

There is a growing food crisis on planet earth – and we need to think about sustainable ways to feed ourselves without plundering the finite resources on planet earth.

Sea vegetables are a way forward…

Because the beauty of sea plants is that they don’t need soil or fresh water to grow.

There’s no need to add fertiliser or pesticides either.

Even better, seaweed absorbs C02 and releases oxygen into the atmosphere.

So this form of sustainable, vegan seafood could be just what we need!

If you use sea vegetables in your cooking and have some easy recipes and tips for other Good Life Letter readers (and me!) then do email me and let me know.