Food of the month - seaweed

For me this year has all been about islands. From destinations as diverse as the Caribbean to the Hebrides my thoughts have been drawn to the sea. Maybe that's why I find myself drawn to the random subject of seaweed!

About 20 years ago an American friend introduced me  to the wonderful world of edible seaweeds and I've been hooked ever since. Back then, at least in the western world, the idea of eating seaweed was a bit off the wall and there was limited availability. However,  over the years - mainly thanks to the increasing popularity  of eating Sushi -  this has been changing and the more popular seaweeds can now be bought at quality delis, world food retailers or even your local supermarket.

The nutritional value of sea vegetables is no  secret to many people around the world and seaweeds have been eaten  by communities around the world for hundreds of years. Gram for gram seaweeds are higher in vitamins and minerals than any other food group and one of nature's richest sources of vegetable protein, vitamin B12, carotene,  chlorophyll, salts and trace elements. A high iodine content helps to regulate metabolism and other elements are thought to help with cancer prevention, cardio-vascular disease and  weight loss. The list of health benefits seems almost  endless. For me seaweeds really are the universal Panacea.

Beyond health there are other benefits. The nutrients mosturise and protect the skin and have anti-aging qualities. In fact it is thought that the seaweeds present in the Japanese diet is largely responsible for one of the highest  longevity rates in the world. In her book - Seaweed  - Valerie Cooksley reveals how the most powerful nutrient on the planet can change our lives. The book features recipes (including many for the seaweed wary), spa treatments that can be done at home and topical treatments for specific conditions. It has information about finding, storing and using seaweed, a product guide, a field guide and much more.

So that's some of the background. If you're new to seaweed to help get you started here's a guide to some of the most popular seaweeds. If you're a bit wary, start small and work up.

Nori - can be purchased as dried flakes to use a condiment or as sheets to have as a snack or to use for wrapping sushi. Some of the seasoned nori strips are a real treat. No pre-soaking required. The flakes add flavour  and are a good way to start.

Alaria - the most beautiful seaweed with a delicate taste. Similar to Japanese Wakame it requires pre-soaking and needs to be cooked for more than 20 minutes. Good in soups and other one pot dishes requiring long, slow cooking.

Kelp - Similar to Japanese Kombu, Kelp is harvested in spring on the Maine coast. Requires pre-soaking and needs to be cooked for more than 20 minutes Another good one for soups or stews. Can also be made into crispy pan fried chips.

Dulse - Unique to the North Atlantic. It is harvested and sun dried off the Maine coast during the low tides of July and August.  Protein and iron rich that is popular with people who eat seaweeds. Can be cooked quickly and is easily made into crisps/chips.

Sea salads are a combination of dried seaweeds that can be  sprinkled over stir fries and fish chowders.

When choosing seaweeds it's important to know where they have been harvested. If you're in the USA you are lucky to have Main Coast Sea Vegetables to order from. Clearspring products are available in the UK.

Do let me know how you get on. Here's to a healthier life!

If you're looking for a cook book here are a couple of suggestions -

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