Cooking with seaweed is easy and you should totally do it.
Sure. There are a ton of great recipes out there. Google some. Buy a cookbook. Or don’t.
The fact is, getting seaweed into your diet can be as simple as you want to make it. That’s because seaweed is an umami booster that pairs well with just about everything. It’s pretty hard to mess it up.
This short guide (based on the Heritage Seaweed Cookbooklet) will get you cooking with it in just 15 minutes — without a recipe.
Why should I cook with seaweed?
It’s reeeally good for you.
Minerals are seaweed’s biggest nutritional benefit. With 10X the minerals of most vegetables, seaweed is notably high in iodine, potassium and iron, and has a broad spectrum of around 60 other minerals. Vitamins, essential amino acids, proteins and antioxidants are in there as well. Seaweed is also a well known anti-inflammatory agent and digestive aid. Oh, and it’s where fish get all their DHA omega oil.
Consequently, regularly eating seaweed offers many health benefits. Some of these include thyroid regulation, cancer prevention, immune system support, cellular protection and increased resilience to harmful radiation, cardiovascular health, optimal cellular metabolism, healthy blood vessels and improved bone strength. A true superfood.
It tastes good.
Do you like meat, soups, shellfish, smoked fish, eggs, cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, nutritional yeast, green tea or soy sauce? These foods’ strong umami (aka “savory”) flavor has a lot to do with that. Seaweeds have umami too. In fact, Kombu (a type of kelp) is to thank for the discovery of umami in 1908 by Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda (umami means “delicious”).
Foods with umami:
- taste delicious
- pair well together
- lessen the need for salt
- stimulate appetite
- contribute to a feeling of fullness
It’s local and sustainable.
Mainers have been wild-harvesting seaweed commercially for more than 100 years, and they continue to do so sustainably. That’s why supply of certain Maine seaweeds is sometimes limited; our harvesters want to protect this
great natural resource. It might cost a couple of dollars more, but when you buy your seaweed from a domestic harvester, you’re helping to preserve traditional working waterfront jobs.
As interest in seaweed increases, we’re now farming it in Maine as well. Simply put, farmed seaweed is probably the single-most sustainable food you can eat. Organic veggies (storage vessels for fresh water, a resource
in dwindling supply) ain’t got nothing on farmed seaweed. Think about this: Farmed seaweed requires no land, no fresh water, no fertilizers, and no pesticides. It’s truly a zero-input crop. And during the growing season, a kelp farm creates habitat for marine life, sequesters carbon, creates oxygen, and reverses ocean acidification.
What can I do with it?
The easiest thing to do? Add flakes to anything, yes, anything.
Slightly more advanced? Put cut-up pieces of whole-leaf seaweed in soups, stews, bean dishes, stir-fries and salads. Then relax with some seaweed tea or a kelp cocktail.
If you get ambitious, the sky's the limit: Take a look at some of the gorgeous, mouthwatering dishes that Maine's top chefs have created for Seaweed Week, the annual restaurant week we founded.
Common types of North Atlantic seaweed
We’ve developed an easy way to think about the 7 most common seaweeds in order to help you understand them instantly: Dulse, Kombu, Wakame, Nori, Irish Moss, Sea Lettuce and Sugar Kelp. We’ve matched each seaweed with a super-familiar ingredient that you probably already understand deeply. These are labeled as each species’ “pair-alike ingredient.”
This should allow you the confidence to start cooking with these seaweeds today, without necessarily needing a recipe. It’s not that these seaweeds taste or cook exactly like their pair-alike ingredient. Think of it more like a metaphor.
For instance, if the pair-alike ingredient is “spinach,” you can assume the seaweed works just about anywhere you’d use spinach: soups, stews, pasta, salad, stir-fries and omelets.
Which kind should I use?
If you're just starting to delve into the realm of seaweed, Dulse, Kombu and Wakame provide a wide range of flavors and uses. For details on these and all 7 North Atlantic species, read on!
Pair-Alike Ingredient: Bacon
Dulse (Palmaria palmata) is a reddish-purple seaweed that’s soft, chewy, salty and quite savory. The most popular way to eat it is the traditional way, snacking on it like chips straight from the bag. It’s been famously compared to bacon — a bit of an imaginative leap, but it’s probably the closest thing to bacon of any naturally occurring, unprocessed non-animal food, particularly if smoked and fried.
- Salad topping. Chop small pieces, use small leaves or add flakes to any salad, including fruit salads.
- Sandwiches. Use a couple leaves in a vegetarian BLT sandwich (people call that a DLT).
- Soups, stews & chowder. Use scissors to cut small pieces. Dulse is very thin and tender, so pieces will dissolve when cooked for a long time.
- Smoothies. Flakes are a popular ingredient in many smoothie recipes.
- Compound butter. Dulse butter is the secret ingredient at some of Portland’s (and NYC’s) best restaurants.
- Hors d’oeuvres. Wrap a leaf around a dab of goat cheese, a grape or an apple.
- Condiment. Roast in the oven at 275°F for 4 minutes or until crispy. Remove and crumble into flakes. Store in an airtight container and sprinkle on veggies, rice, pasta, meat, eggs, popcorn, pizza and other cheese dishes.
Pair-Alike Ingredient: Bay leaf
Kombu or konbu (Laminaria digitata) is a variety of kelp seaweed that’s rich in savory umami. It forms the base of dashi, the foundational stock used to make miso broth and many other Japanese dishes.
Like a bay leaf, Kombu can be a subtle but essential flavor-enhancing addition to many dishes. Unlike a bay leaf, Kombu softens enough to be eaten when cooked for a long period. My rule of thumb: If something’s cooking in liquid, Kombu will probably make it taste better.
- Miso soup broth and dashi. Simply add a strip of Kombu and bring to a light simmer. See MISO SOUP recipe.
- Soups, stews, chowders, rice, pasta, mixed vegetables. Use a strip if you want to easily remove it before serving. Otherwise, use scissors to snip small pieces. Make sure to simmer at least 40 minutes to become tender.
- Beans. Add a strip to beans at the beginning of cooking to improve digestibility, thicken texture, and enrich the overall flavor. Cooking beans with kombu achieves the same result as soaking them overnight according to Cook’s Illustrated.
Pair-Alike Ingredient: Spinach
A staple ingredient in miso soup, Wakame (Alaria esculenta) is one of the most versatile edible seaweeds. With a mild flavor and delicate texture, it readily absorbs the flavors of dressings, sauces, and other ingredients with which it is paired. While you can use it just about anywhere you’d use spinach (and beyond), unlike spinach, it’s sweet, not bitter.
Cooking time is about 20 minutes at a low simmer. However, be aware that the dense midrib (while the same taste and nutrition of the ‘leaf’) cooks more slowly, so it tends to be more chewy. I enjoy that, but if you don’t, one option is to trim out the midrib (like collard greens) post-cooking and save these “kelp noodles” to cook in another dish later. To roast, oven-bake at 275°F for 4 minutes or dry-roast in a skillet at Medium until crispy. Soups, stews & pasta. Use scissors to cut small pieces. Add with other long-cooking vegetables.
- Seaweed salad. Gently simmer, then chill, chop and dress. Save leftover water to use as broth or liquid for cooking rice or pasta.
- Steamed greens. Gently simmer or steam, chop and top with butter. Save leftover water to use as broth or liquid for cooking rice or pasta.
- Omelets, scrambles & stir-fries. Use scissors to cut tiny pieces. Add with butter/oil and saute before adding eggs or stir-fry ingredients to pan. Wakame will be quite chewy in egg dishes that have short cooking times.
- Compound butter.
Pair-Alike Ingredient: Mushrooms
North American Laver (Porphyra umbilicalis) is commonly called Nori because it’s essentially identical to Japanese Nori (Porphyra tenera), the seaweed that’s shredded, pressed, roasted and trimmed to make sushi wrappings and those uber-popular “seaweed snacks.” Same taste.
In its whole-leaf form, its akin to mushrooms — a little nutty, meaty, dense and sometimes even a bit rubbery (in a good way). And also like mushrooms, it’s packed with umami.
- Soups & stews. Crumble or use scissors or a knife to cut small pieces.
- Stir-fries, omelets & scrambles. Use scissors to cut tiny pieces. Add with butter/oil and saute for a minute or two before adding eggs or stir-fry ingredients to pan. Nori will be quite chewy in egg dishes that have short cooking times.
- Pizza. Top pizza with small pieces and cook.
- Condiment. Roast in the oven for a few minutes until the flavor is nutty and it becomes crispy. Remove and crumble into flakes. Store in an airtight container and sprinkle on ... anything: veggies, rice, pasta, meat, eggs, popcorn, pizza and other cheese dishes.
Pair-Alike Ingredient: Gelatin, corn starch
Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus) is a dark purple seaweed that grows in small, bushy clumps about the size of a small fist. Historically, it’s been used to make everything from puddings to toothpaste to beer. A powerful thickener and emulsifier, it’s a vegan, gluten-free, corn-free alternative to gelatin, flour and corn starch.
When boiled, it releases a powerful gelling agent called carrageenan. Word to the wise: It only takes a small amount of Irish Moss to gel something. Overdo it and you may end up with a solid brick! Depending on the recipe, ratios are 1-part Irish moss to anywhere from 4 to 16 parts liquid.
A note about sourcing: Sun-bleached Irish Moss, recognizable for its golden color, is popular because the aroma and flavor are more mild. I prefer mine unbleached because it’s more nutritious. Yes, the aroma of a fresh bag may remind you of wet dog, but in anything but a simple vanilla pudding, the smell and taste aren’t noticeable. Taste-wise, this one's not one of my favorites :)
- Pudding, ice cream & other desserts. Blancmange, a simple European-style pudding, is one example.
- Soups, Broths & Gravies. Thicken and up the nutrients without using gelatin, bones or other animal products.
- Smoothies. “Irish Moss” is the name of a popular Jamaican drink featuring the seaweed and coconut milk, plus flavorings like cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.
- Skincare gel. Easy to make in a few minutes — just soak, boil and blend or strain--Irish moss gel is probably the nicest thing you can put on your skin.
Pair-Alike Ingredients: Spinach, white truffle
Stretchy and almost neon-green when fresh, Sea Lettuce (Ulva lactuca) turns dark-green, delicate and brittle when dried. It has a strong, pungent aroma similar to white truffle and a somewhat bitter, vegetal taste not unlike spinach.
- Soups, stews & pasta. Crumble flakes into just about anything.
- Infused oils & salad dressings. Add flakes to olive oil and store for several weeks. Or add to a salad dressing as you would any herb.
- Omelets, scrambles & stir-frys. Crumble directly into dishes while cooking.
- Condiment. At the table, crumble flakes atop any vegetable, meat, fish, rice or pasta dish.
Spirit Ingredients: Kombu, Wakame
Sugar Kelp (Saccharina latissima) has a savory, umami flavor similar to kombu, with some pieces more like wakame in delicacy of texture. This makes it suitable as a substitute for either seaweed in many cases.
I love to roast the thinner pieces (275°F for 4 minutes) to bring out their nutty flavor and then store them to crumble on things later. Or grind roasted sugar kelp into granules to use as a salt replacement (especially in chocolate chip cookies and other baked goods, mmm).
OK, now get cooking!
So there you go. We hope you’re inspired you to start cooking with seaweed. It’s easier than you think. You really don’t need a recipe. The key, really, is getting your hands on some quality local seaweed — and not being afraid to experiment. Have fun!
All this info and more — including a couple of (yes) recipes — is included in our 16-page Heritage Seaweed Cookbooklet.