Seaweed has been a mainstay in Asian diets for centuries with a wide range of varieties including kelp, kombu, hijiki, wakame and more. In addition to its umami quality and unique texture, seaweed is credited with myriad health benefits. It’s rich in fiber (specifically polyunsaturated lipids which may aid in controlling blood sugar), micronutrients and minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Here, four great ways to add seaweed to your diet regardless of your culinary abilities:
USE SEAWEED AS SEASONING
Try occasionally swapping your traditional salt shaker for one filled with kelp granules. It will give you that same flavor despite being fairly low in sodium, and it has the added benefit of potassium, which you wouldn’t get from table salt alone.
Other condiments that incorporate seaweed include furikake, a variety of dry nori-based Japanese seasonings that can be eaten on rice and seaweed butter, a condiment from the French coastal town of Brittany, which is delicious when tossed with noodles or served on bread. Another option is dulse, a dark purplish seaweed that has a bacon-like flavor. When dry roasted and crumbled, dulse flakes are a creative topping for popcorn or salads.
COOK WITH KOMBU
Create a mineral-rich vegan broth by simmering water with kombu, chopped vegetables (such as carrots, celery and sweet potato) and a bay leaf for at least two hours. The resulting concoction can be sipped on its own or used as a base for soups and anything else that calls for broth.
If you’re cooking dried beans, add a small piece of kombu to your pot. The amino acids in this type of seaweed help break down the beans’ starches, making them easier to digest and less likely to cause bloating or gas. You can even add kombu to pre-cooked beans being used in a stew or chili for the same effect — just be sure to remove it prior to serving in either method.
MAKE SEAWEED SALAD, PASTA, AND SUSHI
Try your hand at a salad made with hijiki, the brown algae wild-harvested on the rocky coasts of Japan and Korea, which has an earthy flavor. Hijiki is usually sold dehydrated, so simply rehydrate and cook by simmering in a mixture of mirin, soy sauce and sake (if desired). You can also try it in this recipe for Hawaiian poke.
Kelp noodles, which are a gluten- and dairy-free pasta made from steamed brown algae are another great pick. Rich in iodine and fiber and low in fat, these noodles are springier and chewier than traditional flour-based versions and have a neutral flavor that lends itself well to a variety of seasonings and sauces.
Fans of sushi are likely familiar with nori — most commonly used as the seaweed wrap. It can also be used as a low-carb wrapper for vegetable rolls. On a full sheet of nori, pile salad greens, julienned carrots and bell peppers, hummus and a couple strips of avocado, then roll into a portable, nutritious snack.
TRY IT IN DESSERT
Agar agar (sometimes referred to as simply agar) is derived from red algae, and is often used as a substitute for gelatin as a thickening agent. Vegetarian and vegan cooks have used agar to make plant-based versions of desserts such as panna cotta or gummy fruit snacks. Note: Gelatin can give a creamy texture, while agar yields a firmer one. It’s also more powerful: 1 teaspoon of agar powder is equivalent to 8 teaspoons of gelatin powder. To make your own, use 2 teaspoons of agar flakes for every cup of liquid in a recipe. Bring the agar-containing liquid to a boil over medium heat and then simmer until thickened, roughly 5 minutes.