For this week's topic for the #mondayhealthbasics series, I am going to work hard at not getting bogged down in scientific evidence and fancy words to try to extoll the virtues of seaweed or sea vegetables. (Although if you're looking for research behind some of these facts, simple hover over parts of the text and you're bound to find a link to something that may prove to be an interesting read, should you be wanting to delve further into the science side of things.) We're talking adding seaweed to your regimen today on the blog. Because minerals. Because lignans. Because cancer protection. Because reducing inflammation. Read on if you need more evidence.
Some call them seaweed, others call them sea vegetables; they are one and the same. It might be obvious, but these culinary (and healthy!) delights live typically in marine waters (so think salty seas) and in some freshwater lakes too. They are mainly lumped into one of three categories, based on their colour: brown, red and green.
Not all kinds are fit for consumption, but there are scores of edible sea vegetables you can include on your table. Some of my favourites include arame, hijiki, kombu, kelp, wakame, nori and dulse. Most folks would be familiar with seaweed as the wrapping around sushi, or the floating green bits in their miso soup. I have a wonderful few recipes from Darina Allen in a book on traditional Irish cooking where she shares recipes on using Carrageen Moss to make pudding. Seaweeds have been a part of traditional culinary cultures living in proximity to ocean waters for many centuries, and with good reason!
Why I love seaweed: they are a fabulous source of minerals. As we move away from traditional ways of cultivating our foods and harvest, our soils are losing some of their mineral content. This loss of minerals is reflected in the produce grown in these depleted soils. As we consume these foods from depleted soils, so we start missing some key minerals in our diet. A good way to help support our health then would be to add in to our diet those foods that would help bridge that gap and provide those lost essential minerals. This is where seaweed comes in!
You'll find these sea vegetables are a good source of important minerals like magnesium and calcium (minerals that work in tandem for bone health, nerve health, heart health, adrenal and thyroid health too), iodine (thyroid health, protecting against breast cancer), a good source of folic acid (a critical B vitamin essential to nervous system health, cardiovascular health and reproductive things as well). You'll also find these vegetables to be good sources of iron, potassium, other B vitamins. But what you may not know is that they also supply us with good amounts of lignans and fucans or fucoidans: these two nutrients bring with them cancer-protecting properties (especially estrogen-dependant cancers) and help support the body in reducing overall inflammation, assisting in reducing blood cholesterol.
Sea vegetables are considered to be a blood tonic, supporting the kidneys and stomach function. One of my favourite party tricks of theirs is that they are excellent at chelating out heavy metal toxins from between your cells: I mean, COME ON! That's reason right there to include them at least once a day.
But how does one just start eating seaweed.
Does it mean I have to forage by the ocean and munch on the sandy rubbery mess?
Well, no. I mean you can if you want to try it out, but I don't recommend it. Yet. (Foraging for seaweed is something on my bucket list. I know. I'm a nerd. Deal with it.) Know that you can find seaweed and sea vegetables in many different forms, either at your regular grocery store or at your local Health food store too. Look for seaweed that is dried, in packages. You may also want to check out the bulk bins or spice racks, where you may find kelp powder. Simply switching a salt shaker on the table for ground up kelp powder will be a fabulous and easy way to start adding the goodness of seaweed to just about every meal, without having to put much thought into it.
Other ways to incorporate these greens into your everyday: you can take a long strip of seaweed and soak it in filtered water for at least 30 minutes in order to soften it. This is one of the key steps in making the Japanese traditional stock called Dashi. (You can also make a bonito dashi, if you're feeling more adventurous and looking for deeper flavour) Once soaked, you can chop it in bite sized pieces to include in any soups, stews or stir fries or to eat raw in salads. I have a recipe I came up with in my Month of Salads challenge I set up last June, this one uses arame, a noodle-like seaweed once soaked. Delish.
Speaking of noodles, there are a few gluten-free noodle options out on the market these days that are made strictly with seaweed. Some are better than others, so don't be discouraged if the first one you try is not to your liking. Play with your food!
Of course you can easily use nori leaves to wrap your sushi in, but did you ever think to use these sheets as an excellent gluten-free alternative to a lunch time wrap? Or cut into squares as a base vehicle for mayo+smoked salmon+kimchi+capers? You can also chop these sheets up into strips to toss into salads, soups and stews or one of my favourites, with butter over popcorn. Or just munch, as is. Kids love these in their lunches.
I toss a kombu strip every time I make a meat stock or bone broth; I have been known to sprinkle in minced Sea Veg Blend to anything I can sneak it in. This includes casseroles, soups, rice dishes, stews. I even sneak them in, along with dehydrated greens, to my meatballs and burgers.
Dulse is an easy one to include in anything soupy or stew-like, as it completely dissolves and is not recognizable in your prepared meal. It takes no time to cook!
And fermenting? Why yes, yes I use seaweed in my ferments! Wakame is a wonderful addition, along with ginger to a sauerkraut; or tossing in strips of dulse in with your kimchi would be divine. I don't know if you know this about fermenting, but it is a sure-fire way to free up minerals and vitamins in the foods being fermented in order to increase their bioavailability. Why not add seaweeds to your ferments, in order to increase the mineral content even more? Why yes, yes I think I just might.
Adding a strip of dried kombu when making a batch of beans is a Traditional Foods idea folks have been doing for yonks, and it appears to improve the digestibility of the beans, which means less gas for the consumers. And friends who are hanging out with said consumers in the hours following.
Know that these greens do come from the ocean, and so they will bring with them a bit of salt. Taste your finished product (with seaweed added in!) before salting your dish.