Seaweed — yes, the brownish-green ribbons and bundles of oceanic plantlike matter that wash up on beaches — is in fact edible. Nori, the papery sheets used to wrap sushi rolls and as a ramen bowl garnish, is likely the most well-known and enjoyed seaweed, but these large, leafy algae come in hundreds of colorful varieties, including wakame, kombu, red dulse and sugar kelp.
Seaweed helps to support other marine life and to clean the water surrounding it. When out of the water, it can bring more nutrition and minerals to our diets.
With several companies bringing seaweed-based foods to the market, it’s getting easier than ever to taste the sea. Here’s why we all can benefit from seaweed.
Good for humans and the environment
For humans, seaweed is a one-stop shop for our crucial nutrient needs. “Seaweed is an excellent source of dietary fiber and minerals,” said Mary Ellen Camire, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine.
“Seaweeds have this ability to concentrate all the trace minerals in the ocean that we cannot access,” Redmond said. “They are sort of this balancing food that we can return some of those trace elements back into our bodies and into our diets.”
And when used as a fertilizer for land-based farming, seaweed can add those essential nutrients back into the soil, improving its health.
However, you don’t need to pile your plate high with seaweed because it can absorb high amounts of minerals. “Some brown kelps, such as the sugar kelp grown in New England, are very high in iodine,” Camire said. “They have so much iodine that consumers are advised to eat it no more than three times per week.”
Since the concentration of specific nutrients in seaweed can interact with various medications, check with your doctor if you have a thyroid condition or take blood thinners before going all in.
Even better: Seaweed requires no fertilizer or pesticides to grow in the ocean, whether it’s farmed there or harvested wild.
How to add seaweed to your everyday meals
OK, now you may be convinced that seaweed is worth sampling. But there’s no need to forage for it — not that you’d want to. Make sure the seaweed products you’re getting are certified organic or tested for heavy metal content, Camire said, because “some types of seaweed are more likely to have heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and arsenic.”
Other than eating lots of temaki rolls and packaged seaweed snacks or adding more nori sheets to your ramen, there are several ways to incorporate edible seaweed into your meal routine.