Perhaps you're a sea vegetable lover, perhaps you've never considered eating them, hopefully you're not adverse to trying them, because even with the word "weed" in its name, seaweed is a vegetable that's worth adding to your dietary repertoire. Seaweed is an important food source in many Asian cultures. To the Japanese, seaweed is just another vegetable that comes from the sea or ocean instead of the land. It is estimated that 15 to 20% of the diet of the average Japanese person is made up of seaweed or a seaweed based product; and with 128 million people, seaweed is a huge market in Japan. To add to seaweed's popularity, the variety called agar or kanten is currently being used as a diet aide! A primitive sea plant and a member of the algae family, this sea vegetable may not even strike you as an edible commodity, especially if you weren't raised by the seaside. But if you've tried sushi, you've probably had seaweed already. A bowl of miso soup at a Japanese restaurant may have had seaweed in it. And people on both coasts of Canada snack on dried seaweed and add it to their dishes. Not to mention the use of seaweed in English and Irish cooking. So what's stopping you? If you're not sure about giving seaweed a try, perhaps you need somewhere to start. Vegetables from the Sea: Everyday Cooking with Sea Greens by Jill Gusman (Harper Collins, 2003) is a beautiful cookbook that helps home cooks gradually introduce sea greens into soups and salads or make them them centre of the plate. Even seaweed doubters are likely to find their mouths watering with recipes such as Miso Soup, Soba Salad with Arame, Sea Palm Chicken Salad with Roasted Garlic, Wakame Succotash, Nori-wrapped Sole, Hijiki Crostini, Sweet and Sour Sea Palm Stew, and Dulse Mashed Potatoes.


Nutrition Notes

Unless you live close to the coast, you're not likely to have a large amount of seaweed in your diet daily. But even small amounts of seaweed every day will add up, as they are nutrient-dense while being low in calories, and have been found to contain antioxidants.

Unlike most land plants, seaweeds have plenty of soluble fibre, which helps in reducing blood cholesterol levels.

1/2 cup (40 g) of Raw Wakame provides 18 calories, 1.2 g protein, negligible fat and sugar, 0.2 g fibre, 35% DV volate, 28% DV manganese, 17% DV magnesium, 6% DB iron, and 5% DV calcium. For the saltiness of most seaweed varieties, they tend to be relatively low in sodium: 14% DV in the raw wakame serving above. (Source: USDA Nutrient Database)

1/2 cup (10 g) of Eden Foods' Wakame (cultivated) provides 25 calories, 0 fat, 2 g protein, 4 g (17% DV) fibre, 660 mg (28% DV) sodium, 480 mg (14% DV) potassium, 8% DV vitamin A, calcium and iron, and more than 100% DV iodine.

1/2 cup (10 g) of Eden Foods' Arame (wild, hand harvested) provides 30 calories, 0 fat, 1 g protein, 7 g (28% DV) fibre, 120 mg (5% DV) sodium, 180 mg (5% DV) potassium, 10% DV vitamin A and calcium, 4% iron, and more than 100% DV iodine.

1/2 cup (10 g) of Eden Foods' Hiziki (wild, hand harvested) provides 30 calories, 0 fat, 0 protein, 6 g (24%) fibre, 160 mg (7%) sodium, 480 mg (14%) potassium, 10% calcium, 4% iron.

3.5" piece (3.3 g) of Eden Foods' Kombu (wild, hand harvested) provides 5 calories, 0 fat, 0 protein, 1 g (4% DV) fibre, 90 mg (4% DV) sodium, 170 mg (5% DV) potassium, and more than 100% DV iodine.

1 sheet (2.5 g) of Eden Foods' Nori (cultivated) provides 10 calories, 0 fat, 1 g protein, 1 g (4% DV) fibre, 5 mg (0% DV) sodium, 90 mg (3% DV) potassium, 8% DV vitamin A, 10% DV vitamin C, and 70% DV iodine.

Seaweed is rich in iodine, and many varieties also provide alginic acid. Alginic acid is jelly-like and is used commercially as a stabilizer and thickener in foods such as ice creams, puddings, flavoured milk drinks, pie fillings, soups and syrups.


Seaweed varieties can be classified according to their colour: Green, Brown or Red Algae. Green seaweeds have been used for food by many cultures for years; brown seaweeds are used for food and are a major source of commercial alginate; red seaweeds are used for food, food additives, as well as for commercial extracts such as agar and carageenan.

Japanese cuisine uses varieties such as hijiki, kombu, laver, wakame and nori in soups, vegetable dishes, tea, sushi, and as a seasoning.

Nori (Porphyra) is widely cultivated in Japan, Korea and China, particularly for use in sushi. The fronds are chopped, boiled, reconstituted into sheets, and roasted; then used in sushi such as California rolls and as a wrap for rice based dishes and snacks. Also called Laver , this seaweed is used by the Irish and the Welsh.

Konbu (Laminaria) is a type of kelp primarily eaten as a prepared vegetable, but is also process into powders or flakes and used in soups.

Wakame (Undaria) is a type of kelp. It works well in hot dishes, so it is often used in soups, stir fries or hot noodle dishes. This is the variety you have likely had in Miso soup.

Hijiki (Hizikia) has a stringy appearance, and is typically served as a cold side dish or garnish.

Irish moss is a red alga used in Irish cuisine and the source of carrageenan, which is used as a thickening agent in food products such as cottage chese and salad dressing.

Arame is the most mild tasting of all sea vegetables. It can be hand harvested in the wild, shredded, precooked and dried. It is versatile, quick cooking and easy to prepare; and great for use in salads and sautéed vegetable dishes.

Agar (or Agar Agar) is a traditional sea vegetable product used throughout Asia. It is tasteless, and can be used as a vegetarian substitute for gelatin. It is used to thicken vegetable or fruit aspics, custards and pie fillings. Agar is used in making kanten, a popular dieting phenomenon in Asia. Kanten can be ground up and added to almost any dish, where it boosts the dish's soluble fibre content, and as a result, may help dieters feel full faster and longer, so they eat less and last longer before their next meal. Read about it in the news:

Dulse is collected in Scotland for use in soups.

Sea lettuce refers to green alga. Diane Bernard, who has come to be known as "the Seaweed Lady," lists four seaweed varieities on the Outer Coast Seaweeds website Bernard, and Outer Coast are the seaweed experts in Whiffen Spit, BC. The following descriptions of Alaria, Egregia, Ulva and Fucus are adapted from their website.

Alaria (Winged Kelp) has a ribbon-like, shiny, olive-brown blade with a flat mid-rib, and a rhubarb-like smell when fresh. The mid-rib is delicious to crunch raw (like celery) or slice thinly to toss into a salad or spaghetti sauce. Thinly slice the frond across the grain and steam or parboil for 1 to 2 minutes. Mix with oil and vinegar and cool in a bag, bowl or pan for a salad. Alaria cooks quickly to a bright green and can be mixed into pasta or rice. Serve it as an edible bed for a fish dish. Wrap Alaria around oysters to steam and give them a sweet pea-zucchini hit!

Egregia (Feather Boa) is a brown kelp fringed with rich, chocolate brown blades and olive-shaped floats. The midrib is discarded after harvesting and each piece of the frond is neatly uniform in shape and turns vibrant green when cooked. Add Egregia to a stir-fry at the very end, or chop it and stir-fry quickly with butter, pepper and garlic for spreading on a chunk of bread as a snack.

Ulva (Sea Lettuce) is light green and tissue-thin, Ulva is tasty in stir-fries, soups and stews - added near the end of cooking. Try a new wrap for a snack or side dish: spread Ulva with light cream cheese and roll it around cooked rice with chopped nuts. If you are a baker, throw chopped Ulva into your bread mixture with nuts. Ulva dries well on rocks to flake into savoury scones.

Fucus (Rockweed) makes a nice addition to herbal teas, along with sliced ginger for a more full-bodied drink. The algin from the rockweed can also be used to thicken broths.


For advice on buying and storing seaweed, we went to an expert: Jill Gusman, chef and author, who has a way with veggies from the sea.

You are most likely to find dried seaweed products in health food stores, specialty/organic sections of grocery stores, and in Asian grocers. Purchase sea vegetables from reputable companies, such as Mitoku, Koyo, Eden, Maine Coast Sea Vegetables and Rising Tide Sea Vegetables

Gusman recommends getting the most reputable brands of sea veggies: look for English labelling and avoid bulk bins - the alternatives tend to be of lower quality and the sea veggies can even be dirty. And if you're concerned about environmental sustainability, some smaller companies hand-pick as they harvest, selecting ripe portions of the seaweed and leaving the plant intact.

If you're going to be lucky enough to enjoy fresh seaweed, you will have to locate someone who harvests it, or find a a cultivating farm. Seaweed salads are also made from fresh, not dried seaweed.


Gusman recommends you open the plastic packages that seaweed comes in, and store the dried plant instead in wide-mouth glass jars. This helps to avoid exposing the product to moisture, and instead of flat packages stacked in your cupboard, the visibility of the seaweed in these jars are likely to trigger more frequent use.

While moisture can dampen dried seaweed and cause more visible salts on the surface, seaweed can in fact be stored indefinitely. If your seaweed is exposed to moisture, dry it in a 200F oven.


Gusman suggests that you incorporate sea vegetables into your diet "gently." You can use seaweed in soups and stews regularly - throw a strip of wakame or kombu in during cooking. If you have some particularly seaweed-phobic eaters, bring out the seaweed before serving, just as you would bay leaves. Sea vegetables with onions and garlic make an excellent broth.

Arame can be added to salads: rinse, soak, drain and mariate - no need to cook. Other seaweed varieties are best pre-cooked, cooled and chopped finely before adding to a dish at the end of cooking.

Use shaker bottles (e.g. Maine Coast Sea Seasonings) of nori, dulse, or kelp, to add flavour and nutrition to any dish that's fresh and hot, such as grains, sauteed vegetables, baked potatoes.


Healthy Ways to Enjoy Seaweed:

Snack on nori - buy a package of nori sheets, toasted or not, and tear it roughly into squares. Serve on a plate as a snack - these crispy bites are a better choice than chips.

You can enjoy dried, flaked seaweed as a snack or a flavouring in various dishes. In New Brunswick, dried dulse is enjoyed as a healthy, high-fibre snack, eaten in much the same fashion as beef jerky and popcorn. Dried dulse is full of minerals, is low in calories, contains no cholesterol or fat and is naturally seasoned by sea salt.

Kelp flakes can be used as a natural replacement for MSG, as a tenderizer and flavour enhancer.

Nori flakes are low in sodium, fat, and calories, with no cholesterol. Consisting of 36% dietary fibre and 40% protein, Nori is often used as a natural replacement for salt in sauces, stocks and snacks. Slocum & Ferris

Kaiso Salads are are made with blends of nori, konbu, wakame, and hijiki, along with other "specialty species" and complementary ingredients. These may be sold as dehydrated convenience products that can be reconstituted and added to a garden salad.

Fast Food Seaweed: Sushi Q restaurants sell a seaweed salad made with frozen Japanese kelp. This salad is sweet/sour, and the kelp itself has a medium-strength flavour, reminiscent of other seafoods.

Plenty of products, recipes and information can be found at

Try some seaweed cookbooks: _Vegetables from the Sea: Everyday Cooking with Sea Greens*_ by Jill Gusman (Harper Collins, 2003). Available to order through, Rising Tide Sea Vegetables and

Seaweed, a Cook's Guide: Tempting Recipes for Seaweed and Sea Vegetables by Lesley Ellis (HarperCollins Canada/Da Capo, 1999).

Sea Vegetable Celebrations by Shep Erhart and Leslie Cerier (Book Publishing, 2003)

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