One of the many things that influence every country’s cuisine is its geography. Highly spicy Indian dishes are a result of the widespread spice cultivation that was made possible by India’s unique climate. Dates are a staple in Saudi Arabia as the country is almost the largest date-producing country in the world.
Likewise, seafood plays a significant part in many coastal countries’ diets. Being an island, Japan, for instance, consumes large amounts of fish annually compared to other countries. Japanese cuisine uses a vast variety of fish and seafood rarely consumed elsewhere, let alone being heard of.
One of these distinct types of seafood is seaweed. While they, at best, freak people out when scraping around their legs in other regions, seaweeds in Japan are a highly nutritious, popular and tasty food that has been consumed for thousands of years. In this article, we are going to explore the realm of edible seaweeds and provide super healthy and tasty salad recipes for you to try.
Unlike what some may think, seaweeds are not fungi but rather algae. These are a diversified group of aquatic plants that grow in saltwater bodies. Like land plants, seaweeds have chlorophyll and use photosynthesis to grow, but they lack roots, nor do they have leaves, flowers or even stems. Instead, they have other unique structures that help them absorb nutrients from the water.
As we said, seaweeds grow in all oceans and seas. Although they are most commonly associated with Asian cuisine, this somewhat overshadowed the fact that they are consumed in many other countries as well, at least in their coastal regions.
For instance, seaweeds are consumed in Western Norway, Iceland, along the Atlantic Coast of France, Northern and Southern Ireland and parts of the UK as well. They are also prevalent in Latin America and Mexico.
Now, there are three main types of seaweeds, categorised by their colours. These colours, in turn, change according to how many pigments the alga has, where exactly it grows and how it photosynthesises. So there are red seaweeds, brown seaweeds and green seaweeds, each having a different combination of chlorophyll types—they are five—and other pigments.
Under the umbrella of these types, there are around 10,000 recognised seaweed species coming in various sizes, shapes and colours. This means there could be even more than that which scientists have not yet discovered. Most of these thousands of species are non-toxic, which means they are edible.
All seaweeds tend to have a salty or briny taste thanks to the large amount of sodium they absorb from the ocean. They are also characterised by a savoury umami taste, like that of meat, which is caused by the high protein and amino acid content in them. Another characteristic is having a metal-like taste, again, because seaweeds absorb a lot of minerals from the water.
That being said, seaweeds may also have a range of other tastes depending on their type and whether or not they are fresh, dried or cooked. For instance, some fresh seaweeds are sweet. Some may taste like grass or vegetables. Others may have a nutty taste when toasted. Likewise, pickled seaweeds will have a sour-salty taste.
Those edible types of algae were found to be so rich in nutrients that they were considered as superfoods. Seaweeds are loaded with vitamins, such as vitamins A, C, E and B12, and minerals, including calcium, potassium and iron. In addition to that, they contain omega-3 fatty acids that support brain health.
Seaweeds are low in calories and fat. They are super filling as they are full of dietary fibres, which assist digestion, regulate blood sugar and help reduce bad cholesterol. They have antioxidants and a high content of iodine that is necessary to produce thyroid hormones. Those, in turn, control metabolism and assist brain development in babies.
Over the centuries, humans have consumed around 700 types of seaweed. Their consumption is quite common in East and Southeast Asia but is mainly associated with Japan as they go into many famous Japanese dishes, such as Sushi (yes!), dashi and nimono. Seaweeds are a staple in Japan that, besides being cultivated from the ocean, is grown and cultivated in similar but artificial environments.
Given all of that we mentioned, many seaweed-based products came out to encourage people to consume more of them. For instance, there is the seaweed butter that incorporates seaweed, cultured butter and salt. It can be used as a replacement for regular butter in cooking, spread on toasted bread or added on top of pasta or cooked vegetables.
There is also seaweed pasta, where dried crushed seaweed is added to the wheat flour used to make pasta. Dried seaweed can also be added to tea for flavouring or can themselves be brewed to make seaweed tea, like a herbal tea.
In many countries, seaweeds are available in supermarkets specialised in selling Asian products or in the Asian section of regular ones. They can be found either fresh or dried like herbs, pre-packed, pickled or incorporated in other foods like the ones we mentioned above.
The most straightforward way to eat seaweeds, however, could be making them into salads. Adding other ingredients to them and a bunch of flavouring condiments can even make them super delicious.
In the next section, we are going to demonstrate four of the most common and accessible types of seaweed salads that you can make at home to consume as a side dish or a healthy snack in between meals.
1. Arame Seaweed Salad
Arame is one common type of edible seaweed that is very widely consumed in Japan and other Asian cuisines, for it is harvested along the Asian Pacific Coast.
Arame belongs to brown seaweeds as it has a dark brown, sometimes black colour. It is thin and long and looks like marine spaghetti. Speaking of taste, Arame seaweed has a mild, sweet taste, and like other seaweed types, it is rich in vitamins and minerals and is quite low in both calories and fat.
The following salad recipe is easy to make and does not take more than a few minutes. Unlike the ones we are going to demonstrate later, this one does not use any Japan-exclusive ingredients, so everything you are going to need is already on the shelf somewhere in your local grocery shop.
- 1 cup of dried Arame
- 2 medium-sized carrots, grated
- 2 medium-sized beetroots, grated
- 1 medium-sized ginger root, grated
- 1 green onion, chopped
- 8 cherry tomatoes, each cut in half
- 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
- 1/2 cup of coriander, chopped
In a bowl, add the Arame, then cover it with cool water and let it soak for around 15 to 20 minutes.
Add all the vegetables to a large bowl and use a spatula to mix them well. In another bowl, mix the lime juice with the olive oil, then add them to the vegetables.
Drain the Arame well, then add it to the vegetables. Add salt according to your desire and mix all well for a minute or so until everything is evenly distributed. Let the salad chill for 15 minutes and remember to sprinkle the sesame seeds on top before serving.
2. Dulse Seaweed Salad
Dulse, not dulce, the Spanish word for sweet, is a red type of seaweed with a deep red to somewhat brown colour. It grows in the North Atlantic Ocean so, accordingly, it is consumed in countries such as the US, Canada, Iceland, Norway and most West European countries with an Atlantic Coast.
Like Arame, Dulse is also quite thin, yet it is flat and has the shape of leaves with a rich umami and salty taste. It is chewy when fresh and crispy when dried and can be used to make side dishes like salads, stews and many different soups.
The recipe we have uses a lot of vegetables and condiments to make a super delectable and healthy Dulse seaweed salad. Most of the ingredients are common, but two are not. These are rice vinegar and wasabi powder.
As the name suggests, rice vinegar is a kind of vinegar made from fermented rice and is quite popular in Southeast Asia. Wasabi, on the other hand, is a green root plant native to and harvested in Japan, so it is sometimes called Japanese horseradish. Wasabi is often grated or grounded and used as a condiment in many dishes to give a fresh, pungent and spicy taste.
- 30 grams of dried Dulse
- 2 teaspoons of grated ginger
- 1 small carrot, thinly sliced
- 3 green onions, chopped
- 4 red radishes, thinly sliced
- 1 small cucumber, sliced
- 1 ripe avocado, sliced
- 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of wasabi powder
- 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of lime juice
- 2 teaspoons of toasted white sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons toasted pumpkin seeds
Rinse the dried Dulse using cold water, then soak it in warm water for around 15 minutes. Drain and squeeze it well to remove any excess water. If your Dulse is flat, you can chop it first and then move it to a large mixing bowl.
In the bowl, add all the vegetables, except for the avocado, and mix them well with the alga with a spatula or your hand. Season the salad with the rice vinegar, sugar, wasabi powder, soy sauce, olive oil, lime juice and a pinch of salt. Mix again very well so the salad is well-flavoured.
Let the salad chill for 15 minutes, then add the sesame and pumpkin seeds and place the avocado slices on the top before serving.
3. Wakame Seaweed Salad
Another very popular type of edible seaweed is Wakame, which means ‘young seaweed’ in Japanese. It has a bright, sometimes dark, green colour, yet it belongs to the category of brown seaweeds. It is also nicknamed ‘sea mustard’ because it looks so much like cooked mustard greens.
Wakame is very thin and slippery when rehydrated, and it has the shape of ribbons or noodles with a slightly sweet taste. It is either made into salads or added to soups. Like all others, Wakame is loaded with minerals, vitamins and fatty acids that support the immune system and boost overall health.
In this Wakame salad recipe, we are pairing the seaweed’s natural sweetness with honey and vinegar to get a distinct sweet and sour flavour. This is one of the most nutritious, palatable and easiest seaweed salads you can make.
- 30 grams of dried Wakame
- 2 teaspoons of grated ginger
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of honey
- 1 tablespoon of virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon of white sesame seeds, toasted
- 1/2 teaspoon of black sesame seeds
Like always, start by soaking the dried Wakame in water. This type does not usually take long to rehydrate and expand. When soaked, drain the seaweed, squeeze it well and then move it to a mixing bowl.
Add the vegetables to your Wakame and mix them all well with a spatula. Set them aside. Bring another bowl and add the soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, and olive oil. Whisk them well until you get a homogenous salad dressing. Pour the mixture on the vegetables and seaweed, then mix them all well.
Let the salad chill in the fridge for 15 minutes. Sprinkle the red pepper flakes and black and white sesame on top before serving.
4. Nori Seaweed Salad
Nori is a famous type of seaweed that is widely used in Japanese cuisine as it is always associated with the country’s most popular dish, Sushi. So yes, it is this seaweed that is used to wrap the Sushi fillings to make the rolls. Aside from that, Nori can be dried, crumbled, crushed and used as a dressing, like sesame seeds, on other dishes.
Although it does look green when fresh and a little blackish when dried, Nori is a type of red seaweed. Unlike the ones we demonstrated so far, Nori is not striped or long like noodles, but instead it has the shape of thin sheets. That is why it is often called sea papers.
Nori has a combination of sweet and salty flavours, which make a perfect, flavoursome salad when the seaweed is mixed with other ingredients and condiments, just like in the following recipe.
Speaking of the other ingredients and condiments, this salad uses tamari, which is a richer and less salty version of soy sauce. But if you cannot find it, you can replace it with regular soy sauce.
- 10 18*20 cm sheets of Sushi Nori (30 grams)
- 1 medium-sized carrot, julienned
- 1 small cucumber, julienned
- 2 tablespoons of spring onions, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon of tamari
- 1 teaspoon of grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon of white sesame seeds, toasted
We know it is pretty annoying, but the problem is that Nori seaweed is not actually available as stripes, but only sheets. So, to make the salad, you need to use a sharp knife or a pair of kitchen scissors in order to cut it.
Stack the Nori sheets on top of one another and use your sharp knife to cut them into a number of stripes. Each stripe should be about one and a half centimetres wide, though you can make them less wide if you want to. It is up to you.
Now, there are two ways to make this salad. The first one is to soak the seaweed in cool water, as we did before, for 15 minutes until it completely rehydrates, then rinse and squeeze it before adding the rest of the ingredients to it. The other way is to soak the seaweed in the dressing sauce itself. This will give it a more profound flavour.
We would like to give the seaweed a more profound flavour, so we will go with the second way.
In a bowl, add the rice vinegar, tamari, and sesame oil and whisk them well. Add the seaweed to the mixture and let soak for 15 minutes until the seaweed absorbs most or all of the liquid, softens and completely rehydrates.
Add the vegetables to the seaweed and mix them all well. Let your salad chill in the fridge for about 10 to 15 minutes, then sprinkle the sesame seeds on top before serving.
Seaweeds are that type of superfood everyone had better add to their diets to get all the essential nutrients to stay healthy and fit. Although they are most common in Southeast Asia, seaweeds are now available in so many countries that do not cultivate them to enjoy them either in salads like the ones we mentioned in this article or in a variety of other ways as well.