Edible Sea Vegetable: SeaWeed
I confess, my kitchen turns into edible science experiments almost every day. Seaweed is my new ingredient in the kitchen lab. Once you get to know the nutritional facts and the familiar taste of popcorn it has when nori (a type of seaweed) is roasted on the fire, then you’ll definitely give this superfood a chance. When I first moved to Cape Town, I was mesmerised by the huge kelp forests that were washed onto the shorelines. On low tides, I observed the variety of seaweeds that clung to the rocks and naturally wondered, “Can we eat that?” You’ve probably already have if you’ve gone to a sushi joint or visit the snack aisle at an Asian supermarket. When we see an ingredient in it’s natural state – outside of a food product/market/restaurant, we’re often surprised by how it grows, what it looks like and what it may actually taste like? This is what I call the spark of our own natural whole food education, also known as the moment when our culinary linguistics expand. I’m a self proclaimed phyco-nerd. Phycology: Greek φῦκος, phykos, “seaweed”; and -λογία, -logia) is the scientific study of algae and was so happy to find fellow wild food foragers on the Cape Peninsula.
Beyond Basic Nutrition: Seaweed Benefits
Contains vitamin B12 (which is rarely found in plants)
- Rich in iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, manganese (overall 13 vitamins, 20 amino acids, 60 trace mineral elements)
- Highest source of plant protein and zero calories
- It’s fiber is helpful for the digestive system, making you feel full and satiated
- Contains iodine which aids the function of the thyroid to release iodine in our blood to help prevent disease. Our bodies don’t make iodine so we have to get it through our food – why not seaweed?
- Reduces water retention and contains higher levels of calcium than beef and cow’s milk
- Natural occurring sodium that resembles human amniotic fluid
- Alkalinizes and purifies blood as it’s chemical composition is similar to the plasma in human blood
- Optimum nourishment for hormonal, lymphatic, urinary and nervous systems
Marine Flora: Wild and Crazy?
I was honestly hesitant to harvest seaweed in South Africa before doing a bit of research. I needed a bit of local knowledge to boost my confidence and to verify that I wasn’t the only crazy who wondered about eating ocean algae. If people in other parts of the world have seaweed-based cuisine, why aren’t we eating it here? Has there ever been a history of it in South Africa? Stay tuned for more about that in a future post.
I took my mom, one of my favorite foragers for whole foods, to Scarborough to learn more about the beautiful seaweed varieties available for us to harvest responsibly. In the quest of learning to harvest wild food, you also develop a respect and knowledge for conserving the ocean environment. I’ve found that becoming more aware of what makes a healthy flourishing balanced ecosystem allows me to make more educated decisions about harvesting and foraging wild foods in nature.
Some Foraging Facts
The Good Hope Nursery in Scarbororgh did such a great job in creatively sharing their experience in sustainably harvesting, tasting and creating with ocean seaweed. It was great to ask questions while enjoying the cosmetic and nutritional benefits of this sea vegetable. We were greeted on the shoreline with seaweed scones and spoke about the red, green and brown varieties of seaweed below our feet. Snippets of seaweed varieties such as kelp, wrack and ulva were gathered to ensure regrowth, conservation and abundance for our ecosystem (about 1/3 of what was growing on the rock near the tideline.) No random bits of floating seaweed was harvested, only healthy clean varieties that were attached to ocean rocks.
Edible Science: Seaweed Recipes
Since that positive coastal foraging experience, I’ve been able to share what I’ve learned along the way, convincing brave and even unadventurous eaters to enjoy the tasty healthy benefits of sea vegetables. On a recent trip to Elandsbaai, we harvested, rinsed and tossed nori in a bit of olive oil before placing it on a wood-burning fire. The result was super flakey, crunchy, tasty green seaweed snack. Get creative and incorporate seaweed in any of your favorite recipes for extra added health benefits. I’d love to hear more about what you discover.
- Two Oceans: A guide to the marine life of southern Africa
- Sustainable Seaweed Cooking by Prannie Rhatigan
- Healing Wise – A Wise Woman’s Herbal by Susun Weed