Also known as kelp, kombu is commonly used in Japan for making dashi broth, which is a stock used as a base for many traditional Japanese dishes. Dashi is made from kombu and soy sauce, sometimes with the addition of other ingredients such as ginger, mirin (rice cooking wine), sake and bonito (fish) flakes. Kombu is high in glutamic acid, which is like a natural MSG and can add flavor to foods. It also contains alginic acid, which helps break down the tough cellulose fiber in foods and make them more digestible. For this reason, a strip of kombu is often added when cooking beans, as it makes them more digestible, less gassy and helps them cook more quickly.
Wakame is most commonly used as an ingredient in miso soup. It swells up significantly when soaked in water and cooked, so a little goes a long way. It also has a tough, spiny piece running down the middle of it—which should be cut up small—and it takes a little longer to cook, so add it first. Wakame can also be soaked and used in salads, combined with cucumber and an Asian dressing made with tamari, brown rice vinegar, mirin and a little toasted sesame oil.
Nori is mostly used for wrapping rice and other ingredients to make sushi rolls or hand rolls. It can also be cut up into tiny strips and added to soups and casseroles or sprinkled on rice and other grains. Nori also makes a great Band-Aid if you get a cut in the kitchen! Just wrap a strip of nori around the cut, and it will seal it. The minerals in the seaweed will help to heal the cut.
Dulse (or dillisk)
Dulse is one of my favorite sea jewels! It is red in color and requires little or no cooking. I love to add it to soups, stews or casseroles, serve in a salad or simply munch on it for a nutritious snack. For a special treat, flash-fry dulse pieces in hot oil. Remove quickly and drain on paper towel—now you have delicious seaweed crisps.
Arame is one of the most mineral-rich sea jewels. It looks like black hair and, coincidentally, is said to be extremely nourishing for your locks. It also has a balancing effect on the hormonal system and is particularly beneficial for the thyroid. Arame is mostly served as a side dish. It needs to be soaked for about 15 minutes before cooking to soften it up, then it can be drained and added to sautéed onion, carrot and whatever other vegetables you wish to add. Season with tamari, mirin and ginger, and serve sprinkled with slivered scallions and toasted sesame seeds. It can also be soaked for up to an hour and served in a cold salad with quickly blanched sugar snap peas, carrot, corn and a spicy salad dressing.
Hiziki is much like arame but is harder and has a thicker texture, so it requires longer soaking and cooking. It is also mineral-rich, very high in calcium and iron, an excellent blood tonic and good for hair and hormonal balance. It is recommended to strengthen the kidneys and is cooked much like arame.
Agar agar is a natural gelatin from the sea and can be used in place of gelatin in recipes. It is high in fiber and is also a good source of calcium. Agar agar is used to make a dessert called Kanten, in which it is simmered in fruit juice (about 1 tablespoon agar agar flakes to 1 cup juice) and poured over cut-up fresh fruit or berries, left to set. Just avoid using agar agar with citrus fruits, as this will negate the gelling action. It can then be pureed or served as is. I like to pour it into individual serving glasses and let it set in the glasses and top with a dollop of cashew cream or natural Greek-style yogurt.
Sea Palm Fronds
This type of seaweed is a little less available that the rest, but if you can find it, it's absolutely delicious. They're like spaghetti from the sea and can be used much like spaghetti in dishes. Soak for up to one hour, cook and serve topped with sautéed mushrooms and shallots with other veggies added.
Sea vegetables will store indefinitely if kept in airtight containers away from direct sunlight. Their salt content acts as a preservative. They can also be sealed and refrigerated for longer shelf life.
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