We’ve probably all tried sea veggies in some form or another especially if we eat Japanese food. Still, I have to admit that my average shopping list (let alone meal) does not include seaweed - after all, it’s certainly not something you find at your average fruit and veg stall, even the hippest local farmers’ market. Nor did I know too much about them until recently. But I had my tastebuds tempted recently at the Organic Products Fair in London, where the latest healthy brands are showcased to the industry. Every other stand seemed to be heaving with delicious marine edibles with exotic-sounding names such as dulse, nori, kombu and kelp, so I decided to find out more.
It's all good as far as sea veg are concerned. From coconut water to kale chips, we’re used to practically everything that passes our lips being called a magical superfood, but holistic nutritional therapist Elizabeth Montgomery says these green goodies really do live up to the hype.
“Their nutrient density is so much more than plant vegetables which these days are grown in increasingly leached soil conditions. I’d say even the most organically, bio-dynamically grown plant greens don’t match up. In fact, seaweed and algae are the only foods I can safely say reduce the need for supplements. Alongside these, the only other true superfoods are sprouts.” (She means the alfalfa kind not the Brussel variety). Certainly, kale and blueberries do not come into the same category according to Elizabeth.
Rhian Stephenson , resident nutritionist at Psycle London is equally as enthusiastic about sea veg, explaining that many are high in chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants responsible for photosynthesis (ie converting energy into light).
“Chlorophyll has a similar structure to our own haemoglobin [which carries 02 in our blood], therefore is thought to increase oxygen supply to tissues, and to build and purify the blood. Plus, they are rich in B12, calcium, iron, omega 3’s and protein, so in my opinion, they are a must for vegans and vegetarians.”
Seaweeds are a good source of soluble fibre too, meaning they slow down the absorption of sugars so we feel fuller longer, controlling blood sugar levels and helping to improve digestion.
Best of all, they taste delicious - if you’ve not tried any, they tend to be salty and a little sweet to varying degrees, some more fishy than others but in a flavoursome way.
That unusual taste is what Jennifer Irvine, founder of the hip, healthy food delivery service, Pure Package , describes as “umami” the Japanese word meaning “pleasant savoury taste” - neither salty, sweet, bitter or sour.
“Umami is known as the fifth taste - both sweet and sour - parmesan is another example of it.” Jennifer discovered the delights of seaweeds through her marine biologist sister who lives on the west coast of Ireland where there is a rich source. “I started experimenting, and we now use sea vegetables in our Japanese Body Booster menu, as well as a seaweed known as ‘sea spaghetti’ in our salmon salad”.
How to get your sea greens
So, now we know they’re the ultimate, great tasting superfoods - how do we make sure sea veg are on our menus?
- As a condiment dried and crushed like spices, seaweeds, for example, kombu and dulse are perfect to season just about everything. At the Pure Package HQ, ‘seaweed shakers’ are on the condiments tray and staffers sprinkle on their lunches to add extra taste and nutrients. Jennifer herself uses it at home for an extra pep to practically everything she makes including bolognese sauce. It’s a healthier way than table salt to boost your iodine intake - a notoriously difficult micro-nutrient to get in our modern diets. Our bodies don’t produce it naturally, yet it’s vital as Rhian explains, “It regulates so many key metabolic functions. Blood cell production, muscle function, temperature regulation and hormonal regulation all fall under this category. Iodine deficiency may cause weight gain, fatigue, an intolerance to cold, inability to regulate body temperature, sluggish bowel and skin problems.” Rhian loves using nori or mixed sea vegetable flakes as seasoning on rice or quinoa bowls as well as soups and salads. Try: Mara Sea Spice Dulse and Kombu Shaker Tins, £5.50 each from maraseaweed.com
or Clearspring Japanese Green Nori Sprinkle, £2.29clearspring.co.uk
As a vegetable this takes a little more imagination and prep as most sea veg come dried (this doesn’t affect their nutritional content) and need re-hydrating. Still, it doesn’t take long and is worth the effort. For example, Rhian likes Wakame (a wide, flat bright green seaweed) for a great Asian inspired salad. She soaks it for about 15 minutes, before draining and patting dry and serving with sliced cucumbers, spring onions and a tamari vinaigrette. She also suggests using Nori sheets as wraps in lieu of wheat based products. Fill with sprouts, salmon, sliced red peppers, cucumber, and avocado for an easy, healthy and portable lunch. Try: Clearspring Japanese Wakame, £5.29 and Japanese Sushi Nori, £3.39 or Sea Tangle Kelp Noodles, £6.25planetorganic.com