We are all familiar with seaweed-wrapped sushi, but did you know that there are as many varieties of edible seaweed (different shapes, colors and textures) as there are different kinds of vegetables? I recently had an opportunity to visit an amazing Asian market in Honolulu. Amid rows of delicate porcelain rice bowls, bamboo steamers, and chopsticks, there were four aisles of dried and processed seaweed products for sale! I realized how little I knew about the various types and their uses and decided to explore them and report on what I learned.
First of all, let’s be honest – seaweed is algae. But not all algae is created equal. Edible seaweed is marine seaweed from a salt water source. Seaweed, or algae, from fresh water is toxic. These are a few of the more common types of edible seaweed.
This is the most familiar seaweed because it’s in sushi, like futo maki or California rolls. It is readily available in supermarkets as dried, flat sheets. You can also add this edible seaweed to soups (like miso soup), bread (like laver bread), and it can be moistened and added to salads. Nori has the highest protein compared to the rest of the seaweeds and is rich in calcium, iodine, iron, phosphorous, potassium, manganese, copper, zinc and Vitamins A, B, C, E and K.
Dulse is red algae and is shaped like a hand, which is how it got the genus name, Palmaria.
What’s it taste like? It has a salty flavor and is mildly spicy. It is slightly chewy when rehydrated. This edible seaweed is excellent in soups, salads and stir-fried dishes. Extremely high in Vitamins B6 and B12 (antioxidants), dulse also contains Vitamin C, E and A, iodine, calcium, magnesium, protein and dietary fiber.
Hijiki looks like black noodles when it is dried. It has to be rehydrated before use, so you need to soak it for a few minutes. Hijiki, like most dried seaweeds, expands in size and can be used in casseroles, stews, chopped in burgers, salads and eaten as a snack food. Hijiki is high in calcium and fiber.
Sea Lettuce resembles the look of leaf lettuce and is quite common in ocean waters. This edible seaweed has a strong seafood taste and odor and is slightly pungent. It is quite delicate after drying and crumbles easily. Best added to soups, salads or eaten as a snack, sea lettuce provides roughage for our digestive systems. High in iron, sea lettuce also contains Vitamins A, B1 and C, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Sea grapes are also known as “green caviar” and are often seen floating in marine waters or washed ashore on coastal beaches. Sea grapes have a soft, succulent texture, well – like grapes. They are usually eaten raw with vinegar as a snack or in a salad.
The three most familiar types of kelp, primarily used in Japanese or Korean dishes as well as in raw recipes, are arame, kombu, and wakame.
Arame is dark brown kelp and stringy in texture. Normally sold dried, it needs to be soaked for about three minutes before using. It tastes somewhat sweet and nutty and is good with beans, grains or noodles, in salads, stews, casseroles and eaten as a snack. Arame is rich in iron, calcium, potassium and iodine.
Kombu, when roasted, has a taste similar to that of bacon. So, it tastes delicious and is packed with nutrients such as calcium, carotene, iodine, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, protein, sodium, and vitamins A, C, D, E, K.
Wakame contains one of the highest sources of calcium. It is dark green or sometimes brown in color. Excellent in casseroles, soups and stews. It is also good when added to brown rice during cooking.
Salcornia is also known as glasswort, pickleweed or marsh samphire and is called “samphire greens” in Canada, “crow’s foot greens” in Nova Scotia, “sea beans” in the US and sea or ocean “asparagus.” It generally grows in brackish water near the edge of the ocean, but is now being cultivated as a hydroponic crop, growing on floating platforms in Hawaii.
Salcornia is very salty and needs to be cooked in plenty of water without any added salt. It has a hard, stringy core, and after cooking, the edible flesh is pulled off from the core. This flesh has the flavor and texture of young spinach stems or asparagus and is reported to have anti-flatulence properties. In some countries, it is used as fodder for cattle, sheep, goats and donkeys. The ashes of salcornia were once used as a source of soda ash for glassmaking and soap making.
And don’t forget – National Seaweed Day is February 6!