Do you eat sea vegetables in your diet? Edible sea vegetables can come in all shapes and sizes and most of them are rich in important vitamins and minerals. According to World’s Healthiest Foods, the most common nutrients in sea vegetables include calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, vanadium, and zinc.
Beyond being a rich source of everyday nutrients, sea vegetables are a versatile ingredient in your kitchen. While there are thousands of varieties of sea vegetables, only a handful are edible, each with their own unique flavor, texture, and culinary use. Nori, for example, is great for sushi but also makes a healthy snack. Hijiki shines in salads while kombu makes a delicious broth. Interested in learning about which sea vegetables to try? Read on for some of our favorite picks:
Kombu is a type of kelp commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It is dark in color and comes packaged in large, dried sheets with a thick, almost leathery texture. Like most sea vegetables, kombu is a good source of calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, vanadium, and zinc. Kombu, in particular, is one of the highest sources of plant-based iodine.
Kombu is best used to make kombu dashi, a type of broth that is the base of many Japanese foods, like miso broth or nimono, a simmering technique. While dashi often includes bonito fish flakes, in shojin ryori, or Japanese Buddhist cuisine, it is made with kombu and dried Shiitake mushrooms. Learn how to make kombu dashi in this recipe for Kake Udon. Don’t discard the kombu after it’s been used — freeze it, because it can be used to make another batch of dashi (though the umami flavor won’t be as strong). Use dashi to make Japanese simmered vegetables, as the base for miso soup, ramen, and other noodle soups. You can also throw a small (1 or 2-inch) piece of kombu into a pot of dry beans, to help make them more digestible or at a piece to any soup or stew to add more savory flavor.
Look or kombu in the international aisle of your local grocery store. If you live near an Asian supermarket, you’ll likely be able to find it for a cheaper price. Or, you can pick up a pack of these Eden Kombu Strips for $10.69 per 2.1-ounce bag.
Most of us probably know nori as the thin, papery wrapping for sushi or more recently, seaweed snacks. On its own, nori is crisp with grassy, slightly umami flavor. Unlike kombu, there is a little more processing behind nori. It is actually made from shredded seaweed that is then pressed into paper-thin sheets. It is a good source of vitamin K and DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid commonly found in seafood, but regular consumption of nori may reduce blood pressure, so those taking blood pressure medication should avoid nori. Nori snacks may also be high in sodium, so if you are on a low-sodium diet, be mindful of how much you eat.
Beyond plant-based sushi, nori has other culinary uses. Large sheets can be used to make sushi burritos or to add fishy flavor to fish-free dishes, as in these White Bean and Jackfruit Fishsticks or this Hearts of Palm Calamari. Finely shredded nori can also add authentic flavor to chickpea “tuna” mash. Beyond that, plain nori can be enjoyed as a snack (try popping it into your toaster oven to crisp it up even more). Shredded nori or nori mixed into furikake also pairs nicely on top of plain rice or noodle soups like ramen.
As with kombu, nori can be found in the international aisle of the grocery store or at the Asian supermarket for a cheaper price. You can also pick up a package of this Nakai Deluxe Sushi Nori, which contains 50 sheets, for about $15.
Wakame is a type of edible brown seaweed common in Japanese, Koren, and Chinese cuisine that comes with the same spectrum of vitamins and minerals that you can find in other sea vegetables. When dry, wakame looks like thick brown shreds, similar to dried seaweed you might find washed up on a beach shoreline. When hydrated, it has a slightly chewy texture and umami flavor. Wakame is often the base of the seaweed salad you find on the menu at many Asian restaurants and is flavorful enough to eat on its own. For a salad, try this Edamame Seaweed Salad. It can also be used to make Vegan Fish Sauce, which is a seasoning or base in many Thai and Vietnamese dishes.
Beyond seaweed salad, wakame can be used to add fishy flavor to vegan seafood dishes. This Tofu Poke combines shredded wakame, soy sauce, sesame seeds, garlic, and ginger for a refreshing, fish-free poke and it is used in this Fillet-o’ Fishless Artichoke Sandwich to give it the right flavor.
Look for wakame in the same spots you would find other varieties of seaweed, or pick up a four-ounce package of this VitaminSea Raw Wild Wakame Flakes for about $15.
Hijiki is a type of Japanese brown seaweed that’s harvested from the country’s rocky coast before being dried, packaged, and sold. It is dark in color, resembles black tea in dried form, and has a slightly sweet, umami fragrance. When hydrated, it has an earthy flavor similar to mushrooms. There are also two different varieties —nagahijiki, which is the stems, and mehijiki, the leaves. Like other seaweeds, it is a good source of iodine, magnesium, calcium, and potassium.
One of the most popular ways to eat this savory seaweed in Japan is a dish called hijiki no nimono, or hijiki simmered in dashi, mirin, soy sauce, and sake. Simmered hijiki can also be tossed in salads, like this Spicy Cucumber Avocado Salad or this Chopped Detox Salad. It also pairs well with a salad with shredded carrot, edamame, and konyac or noodles, as in this Carrot and Soba Noodle Salad. Unlike the other sea vegetables mentioned above, hijiki is not ideal for marrying dishes with fishy flavor.
Hijiki can be on the pricier side at everyday grocery stores, so keep an eye out at the Asian supermarket. Or, pick up a four-ounce package of Wel-Pac Hijiki Dried Seaweed for about $4.50.
5. Irish Moss
Also called carrageen moss and sea moss, Irish moss is a type of red algae that grows on the rocky coasts of the Atlantic in both Europe and North America. In terms of nutrition, Irish moss is a good source of iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc. It is most likely best known through carrageenan, an ingredient that is used as a thickener or stabilizer in many commercially sold non-dairy milks and vegan ice creams.
When dry, Irish moss is stringy, light brown or taupe in color, and covered with salt. A light brown color indicates that it has been harvested in the wild, while the lighter color means that it is farm grown. Historically, Irish moss has been used in Ireland and Scotland to make a pannacotta-like dessert made from vanilla, cinnamon, and brandy and it has also been used to make jelly desserts in East Asian cuisine. In Jamaica and Trinidad, Irish moss is boiled and combined with cinnamon and milk to make sea moss, a drink that is believed to be an aphrodisiac. You can often find sea moss drinks in Caribbean juice bars, where it is also offered as an add-in for smoothies. It is also said that Irish moss can be a useful ingredient in raw vegan “cooking,” specifically as a thickening agent for desserts, a binding agent for nut cheese, or as a thickener for a sauce.
One of the easiest ways to use Irish moss is to make a gel, which can be used to thicken smoothies. To do that, soak your Irish moss in filtered water overnight. Drain, then rinse the Irish moss to remove excess salt and sand, then place it in your blender or food processor. Use a 2 water to 1 Irish moss ratio, then blend until a thick gel forms. Transfer the gel to airtight containers or mason jars and add a spoonful or two to your smoothies.
Irish moss can be tricky to find in stores, but it’s not impossible. Check with your local health food store to see if they carry it. If you can’t find it, then you can buy a five-ounce package of Terrasoul Superfoods Irish Moss for about $11.50 online.
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Lead image source: Edamame Seaweed Salad