Long revered in Japanese culture for its health-giving properties, seaweed is enjoying a moment in the spotlight, appearing in spas and restaurants in new and inventive ways. Western Washingtonians are especially lucky as our waters are brimming with different varieties, which adventurous spirits can pick and prepare for themselves. For those who don’t want to work for it, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the marine vegetable that is packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Our local waters are home to vast forests of seaweed, but the most popular, useful and palatable are winged kelp (Alaria), sugar kelp (Saccharina) and bull kelp (Nereocystis). In only a few short steps, anyone can harvest the plants and reap the health benefits.
• Get a license from a Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife office, or call (360) 902-2464.
• Avoid contaminated waters to make sure the seaweed you harvest is safe for consumption. Check beach and water advisories at doh.wa.gov/shellfishsafety.htm.
• Harvest only your share. The daily limit in Washington is 10 pounds of wet seaweed per day. Violations will result in fines, and you are responsible for bringing your own scale.
• Dry or cook your kelp, but don’t sell it—that’s against the law.
One of the most healthful properties of seaweed is its high level of iodine. Iodine is an important compound that can only be found in plants from the sea and is known for regulating thyroid function. Protein, fiber, calcium, iron and vitamin K round out seaweed’s nutritional profile. There are many ways to incorporate fresh seaweed into your diet, but below we offer a few simple ways to dive in, if you’ve never cooked with seaweed before.
Simple Miso Soup
4 cups of water
¼ cup shredded seaweed
3 tablespoons white miso paste
1/3 cup chopped green onion
1/3 cup cubed firm tofu
Bring water to a boil in a saucepot. Add the seaweed, and simmer for five minutes, longer for tougher varietals. In a small bowl, add a few teaspoons of warm water to the miso paste to prevent clumping. Add the miso paste, green onion and tofu. Let simmer another five to seven minutes, and then season with salt or soy sauce to taste.
2 tablespoons sesame oil
¼ cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
¼ cup sliced onions
1 cup of sliced seaweed
Splash of soy sauce (or tamari for a gluten-free option)
In a frying pan, heat one tablespoon of oil on medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until golden brown. Set mushrooms aside. Add second tablespoon of oil. Once hot, add the onions. When slightly golden, add the seaweed and cook until tender. Add the mushrooms back into the pan, and season with soy sauce or tamari.
Soak in It
Seaweed is as good for the skin as it is for the inside of your body. We asked Kim Chisholm, seaweed expert at Seaweed Bath Co., why we should all be turning our bathtubs into relaxing seawater escapes. Their products, ranging from shampoos to sea salts, can be found at select local Whole Foods, as well as online at seaweedbathco.com.
Reflections magazine: Why is seaweed so good for the body?
Kim Chisholm: Seaweed is high in vitamins and minerals that are amazing for your skin. Think of it as a superfood for your skin.
RM: Why is a bath an effective way to absorb minerals from seaweed?
KC: A seaweed bath can give your body the same feeling as a dip in the ocean. Bladder wrack seaweed, for example, releases a mineral gel in your bath that helps rejuvenate and condition your skin and hair. It’s also high in iodine (detoxifying), rich in fucoidin (a powerful anti-inflammatory) and has amino acids that help increase hydration and skin appearance.