It is estimated that there are approximately 5000 – 6000 species of seaweed worldwide, with around 720 found in the UK. Also known as marine algae or even sea plants or sea vegetables, seaweeds are slowly gaining recognition in the west for their culinary versatility and amazing nutritional values of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements.
It is astounding how versatile seaweeds are not just as a foodstuff, but also in cosmetics, medicines and even for producing energy.
Eating seaweed is nothing new, the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans have been dining on it since prehistoric times, indeed seaweed has become part of their daily diet and some varieties are treated as great delicacies.
Closer to home, certain varieties have been popular in Scandinavia, France, Spain and the UK for centuries. Wales has had a close relationship with one particular variety of seaweed, Laver, which is commonly used as laverbread as known as "Welshmans Caviar" (Richard Burton).
It has been an interesting experience to see how people respond to seaweed in food when handing out samples to the public - some, on discovering it contains seaweed, simply run a mile! The braver quickly realise that seaweed isn't the salty/slimy substance they were anticipating but a wonderful ingredient that can bring taste, texture and goodness to a huge variety of dishes both savoury and sweet.
In fact, in modern times people eat seaweed without even realising it, the thickening agent from Carragheen is commonly used in many everyday items such as ice cream, chocolate milk, yoghurts, and even beer.
All seaweed is edible, though the Desmarestia species can contain sulphuric acid, which thankfully only grows in deeper water so unless you plan on going scuba diving for your seaweed you're very unlikely to come across it. The only issue you need to be aware of is pollution.
What makes seaweeds so incredibly healthy is their ability to absorb all the goodness of the sea, clearly if the sea is polluted it is likely that the seaweed will absorb this. Heavy metals from industrial areas can be a problem, as well as agricultural runoff. So as always, use your common sense - if you're on a beach with an aluminium plant around the corner it is probably not a good idea.
Seaweeds can be split into the following 3 main species, the red, brown and green:
|Red Seaweeds||Other names||Brown Seaweed||Other names||Green Seaweed||Other names|
|Dulse||Dillisk, Tangles, Tang, Sea Parsley (Palmaria palmata)||Kelp||Kombu, Konbu, Haidai, Oarweed (Laminaria digitata)||Sea Lettuce||(Ulva lactuca)|
|Carragheen||Carrageen, Irish Moss, Carrageenan (Chondrus crispus)||Sugar Kelp||Sweet Kelp, Kombu Royale, Oarweed (Laminaria saccharina)||Gutweed||(Enteromorpha intestinalis)|
|Laver (more info)||Sloke (Porphyra umbilicalis)||Sea Spaghetti||Thongweed (Himanthalia elongata)|
|Agar Agar||A similar species to Carragheen, used for its thickening agent - found in eastern Asia (Gelidium amansii)||Irish / Atlantic
Wakame / Dabberlocks
Please note that all seaweeds when dried can be stored for up to two years!
The following have provided me with a great resource of information with regard to seaweed and if you are keen to find out more I strongly recommend the following: