It seems strange that, for such a small island and with an abundance of seaweed drifting onto our shores daily, we don’t make more use of this untapped food here in the UK.
It’s strange that seaweed has been part of a diet somewhere in the world since prehistoric times and around 145 species of it are still eaten and yet, for some reason, this naturally produced food is shunned by the western world.
Asia is a prime example when it comes to adding seaweed to the diet particularly in China, Japan and Korea In Japan over 20 species of it are used in their food but sadly, despite us Brits now enjoying the introduction of sushi bars into our never ending stream of cultural restaurants, for some unknown reason, we still shun seaweed. Researchers have pondered this point and believe that the British see seaweed more as some form of flotsam or jetsam – rubbish that’s washed up onto the shore and left there when the tide goes out. Researchers have even likened this perception to us going into an orchard and eating the rotting food on the ground. However, it seems our researchers and nutritionists are on a mission to reintroduce us to this “ugly fruit” of the sea!
It’s a fact that there are around 830 different species of seaweed around our shores in the UK (which is around the same size as that of Japan) but only around 35 of these are used for cooking. One trained chef who forages the highways, byways and seaways, suggests that, of these 830, at least 90 could possibly be used in our diet.
Here in the UK the Welsh still use laverweed to make laverbread (bara lawr in Welsh!). This is basically made from simmering laverweed for a considerable amount of time, mixing in some porridge oats, seasoning, adding a bit of chopped bacon and then frying it up. Apparently it comes out looking like a pile of cow dung but tastes surprisingly good.
Laver and toast
In Ireland they use carrageen for jellies and desserts.
On the health front, seaweed contains a fair amount of calcium which is a huge bonus if you’re vegan and between 7-35% protein if you buy a dried version. It’s also high in iron, Vitamins B2, A, C and D and is extremely high in iodine. I, myself, take kelp tablets on a regular basis as it’s excellent for all sorts of ills and ailments and I have to admit I do find it really beneficial. Its high iodine levels improve the function of the thyroid gland which gland is vital for boosting our metabolism, and assists in maintaining our immune system. It also contains anti-inflammatory properties which can help with aches and pains including some forms of arthritis and rheumatism.
But, as with other food products, don’t go mad with your intake of seaweed as an overdose of the vitamins and minerals ain’t always a good thing, but certainly taken in moderation, whether dried or fresh, is a good source of nutrition. I work on the premise “it’s not a bad thing to have a pizza or a burger once or twice a week but it’s not good practice to have it seven days a week!”.
For those of you who are interested, if you’re somewhere in the world that can get to the BBC website you may be interested in clicking on the links below for some recipes.
Here in Norfolk we seem to get a good supply of Bladderwrack washed up on our shores so you can expect me to be out there at the weekends when the tide goes out just to gather in a few handfuls of this weird looking seaweed and seeing what recipes I can come up with on the internet – good old Google!