Beyond sushi restaurants and roasted snacks, seaweed is increasingly accepted, appreciated, even adored, in American kitchens — and for good reason.
Seaweed is really good for you. It’s loaded with potassium, magnesium, Vitamin B12, iodine, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and tons of calcium. And then there’s the umami bomb of taste: briny, sweet, meaty, and vegetal are just some of the ways cooks describe the flavor of various seaweeds.
People have been harvesting wild seaweed all over the world for many years. And, until recently the only edible seaweed available in the U.S. was dried. (And a good deal of the dried seaweed we buy comes from Asian waters.)
Dried seaweed is used to roll up sushi, season miso soup, dashi broth, salads and more. But thanks to innovative companies, frozen and fresh seaweed grown in U.S. waters is now available.
I want to tell you about one of those companies, which is right here in my home state of Maine because the story of Atlantic Sea Farms and its founder Brianna Warner is an uplifting one. And do we ever need uplifting stories these days!
Atlantic Sea Farms is the largest commercial seaweed farm in the U.S. They line-grow their seaweed in clear, icy cold Maine waters. The seaweed — which is sold frozen in pureed cubes and in ready to eat cut strands and fermented products — is never dyed or dehydrated.
Warner saw a need for a viable, sustainable business to help Maine lobstermen and women diversify their business. Lobstering — one of Maine’s most important industries — has been hit hard. Demand for lobsters has fallen sharply because of COVID-19 as restaurants scale back their business and fewer tourists visit Maine.
Climate change is also a big factor. The waters of the Gulf of Maine are warming rapidly, forcing lobsters — which thrive in cold water — to migrate further north into Canadian waters.
Warner offers people who catch lobsters for a living the chance to farm seaweed in the off-season. She gives them free kelp seeds. When lobster traps are removed from the water for the season, they are replaced by ropes on which kelp is grown. Seaweed farming gives people who have depended on lobsters for their livelihood a chance to earn a year-round income.
This is also a feel-good story environmentally, too. Maine waters are increasingly high in nitrogen and carbon, causing water temperature to rise. Growing seaweed can actually remove carbon and nitrogen from the water and helps the water maintain healthy levels.
So far, 2020 produced a record seaweed harvest: Atlantic Sea Farms alone harvested 450,000 pounds of seaweed up and down the Maine coast seeded by 24 fishermen.
Atlantic Sea Farm products, including fresh/frozen kelp, Sea-Chi Mild Kimchi, Sea-Beet Kraut, and Fermented Seaweed Salad can be found across the country.
Guide To A Few Of The Most Common Types Of Dried Seaweed:
- Arame is dark brown Japanese kelp with long, fine strands and a sweet, mild flavor. It looks a bit like thin strands of dried black pasta and can be rehydrated in warm water for 5 minutes.
- Dulse is pinkish/maroon colored and generally sold in flake form. It’s chewy, almost meaty, and quite salty.
- Hijiki is black, twig-like seaweed that resembles tea leaves. When hydrated it grows three times in size.
- Kelp is the most widely well-known type of seaweed. It is “meaty” in texture and flavor and full of umami. Kelp is also known as Kombu, the Japanese word for kelp. Kelp is a bit thicker than other varieties and is said to tenderize dried beans when added to the cooking water.
- Nori is crisp, mild, and smoky, almost with a nutty flavor. Its dark green color is used dried in sushi rolls and sometimes added to miso soup.
- Wakame is a slightly vegetal tasting seaweed, slippery and delicate. It is often used to flavor miso and other soups.
Storage: Dried seaweed will keep for months but once opened it should be stored in an airtight container for a few weeks. Seaweed can also be frozen for several weeks.
Other Ways To Use Seaweed:
- Add to salads
- Give umami flavor to sauces, mayonnaise, and vinaigrettes
- Add to stir-fries
- Add to stocks, broths, and soups for briny vegetal flavor
- Add to egg dishes
- Add to softened butter and use to top any grilled or roasted foods
- Add to udon and other noodle dishes
- Sprinkle dried crumbled seaweed on potatoes or baked fries
- Sprinkle seaweed on cucumber and onion salad with rice wine vinegar
- Sprinkle pulverized dried seaweed on grilled steak or chicken
- Coat a tuna or fish steak in pulverized dry seaweed and grill or sauté
Grilled Corn With Seaweed Butter
This simple seaweed butter can be made using frozen/fresh seaweed or regular dried seaweed. Kelp works well, but feel free to substitute with any type of dried seaweed you have on hand. The seaweed butter can be made ahead of time (cover and refrigerate) and will keep for up to three days.
Serves 2 to 4.
The Seaweed Butter
- 1/4 cup dried seaweed, or one (0.6 ounce) Atlantic Sea Farms Kelp Cube
- 3 tablespoons room temperature lightly salted butter
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch dry ginger, optional
- Pinch chile flakes or hot pepper sauce, optional
- 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon or lime zest, optional
- 4 ears corn, husks pulled back (but not removed), silk removed
- Vegetable oil for the grill
- To make the seaweed butter: If using dried seaweed, place the seaweed in a spice grinder, blender, or food processor and whirl until pulverized. In a small bowl, mix the (dried or fresh) seaweed and the butter until thoroughly incorporated. Season with pepper to taste. Mix in optional ingredients if you like.
- Preheat a gas or charcoal grill until hot, about 450 degrees. Lightly oil the grates with the oil. Place the corn on the hot grill with the husks hanging over the edge so they don’t cook or burn. Grill the corn about 3 to 4 minutes per side, depending on how young or thick the kernels are, turning the corn once or twice.
- Remove the hot corn from the grill and place on a platter. Place a teaspoon or so of seaweed butter on each ear of corn and serve any remaining butter on the side.
Japanese-Style Seaweed Omelet
There is a traditional Japanese omelet called Tamagoyaki, a rolled, thin, crepe-like omelet that often includes seaweed.
I’ve never eaten Tamagoyaki, but it occurred to me that sautéed zucchini and seaweed, topped with fresh eggs (whisked with sesame oil and a dash of soy sauce) would make a delicious omelet.
Serve the omelet hot from the skillet, or at room temperature. You can also cut the omelet into strips and place on top of ramen, Asian soups or noodle dishes, rice dishes, or added to fried rice towards the end of the cooking time.
Serves 2 or 4 as an appetizer.
- 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
- 1 cup finely chopped zucchini
- 1/2 cup seaweed strands, preferably Kelp or Nori, fresh or dried, plus 2 tablespoons*
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
*If using dried seaweed, cut into thin strips
- In an 8-inch heavy skillet, heat the oil over moderately high heat. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes, or until golden brown and almost tender. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the 1/2 cup seaweed; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
- In a small bowl whisk the eggs with 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil and all the soy sauce. Add the beaten eggs on top of the sautéed zucchini and seaweed and let cook about 3 minutes, without touching. Using a wide spatula, very carefully flip the omelet over in one piece. Cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes, or until the omelet doesn’t appear wet. Remove the skillet from the heat. Place a plate on top of the skillet and flip the omelet out of the skillet.
- In the same skillet you cooked the omelet in, heat the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil and add the remaining 2 tablespoons seaweed. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Top the omelet with the sautéed seaweed.
Whirl up some cottage cheese (or yogurt or sour cream) with a cube of fresh/frozen kelp (or pulverized dried seaweed), miso paste, and fresh dill and you have an instant dip for raw fennel, carrots, peppers, celery and/or chips or pita bread.
Makes about 1 cup.
- 1 cup cottage cheese, plain yogurt, or sour cream
- 1/2 cup peeled, chopped cucumber
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- 1/2 cup dried, ground seaweed* or one (0.6 ounce) Atlantic Sea Farms Kelp Cube
- 1 1/2 teaspoons white or yellow miso paste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Dash hot pepper sauce, optional
*To ground the dried seaweed, place in a spice grinder, blender or food processor and whirl until finely pulverized
- In the container of a food processor or blender, whirl all the ingredients until smooth. Season to taste with a touch more miso or salt, pepper, and pepper sauce to taste.
Ginger Kelp Green Juice
This recipe comes from food writer Mindy Fox. This refreshing, nutritious summery drink is like a cross between a smoothie and a green juice. Seaweed and greens provide nutrients and substance and ginger, honey, salt and pepper add spice.
Serves 2 to 3.
- 5 cups packed chopped kale leaves, or any combination of greens such as romaine lettuce, arugula, or add mint and other herbs
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 banana, peeled
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger root
- 2 Atlantic Sea Farms cubes pureed kelp
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus more to taste
- 2 teaspoons honey, plus more to taste
- 2 to 3 grinds freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- Pinch kosher salt, plus more to taste
- Combine all of the ingredients in a blender. Add 3/4 cup ice cold water and 3 large ice cubes. Puree until smooth. Adjust honey, pepper, and salt to taste.
This segment aired on July 30, 2020.