Sea Vegetables

Edible kelp or seaweed are healthful additions to your diet

 Since Popeye was a sailor man, it’s hard to figure why he ate spinach instead of sea vegetables, also known as kelp or seaweed. Reigning supreme on most nutrition charts, sea vegetables boast an impressive list of health benefits.

They provide the broadest range of minerals of any food, containing virtually all of the minerals found in the ocean—the same 56 trace elements that are found in the human body. Besides containing significant amounts of calcium, iron, iodine, and potassium, sea vegetables are also an excellent source of vitamin K and the B vitamins B1, B2, B6, and B12. A snack of roasted nori or an appetizer of miso soup with wakame packs a hefty punch of nutrients.

Western cultures have only recently begun to enjoy the taste and nutritional value of sea vegetables, but they have been a staple in Japan for centuries, making up about 20 percent of the average Japanese diet. Here in California, local sources of seaweed are plentiful. Native Americans have been harvesting seaweed on the Northern California coast for thousands of years. Today, a few commercial harvesters like the Mendocino Sea Vegetable Company continue that tradition. Sea vegetables can thrive at great depths in marine saltwater, provided that sunlight can penetrate through to their leaves. They are neither plants nor animals, but classified in a group known as algae.

Numerous varieties of sea vegetables can be found in supermarkets and health food stores throughout the year. Edible sea vegetables are grouped into categories by color—brown, red, or green. Each is unique, having a distinct shape, taste, and texture.

One of the most popular is nori, a dark, purple-black seaweed that turns phosphorescent green when toasted. Most people know it as the “wrapper” in sushi rolls. Kelp, which is light brown to dark green in color, is readily available in flake form. Kombu is dark in color and generally sold in strips or sheets. It is often used as a flavoring for soups. Wakame is similar to kombu and commonly used in miso soup.

How to Select and Store
Look for sea vegetables that are sold in tightly sealed packages. Avoid those that have evidence of excessive moisture. Store sea vegetables in tightly sealed containers at room temperature and they will stay fresh for several months.

Easy Serving Ideas
• Slice nori into small strips and sprinkle on top of salads.
• Keep a container of kelp flakes on the dinner table and use instead of table salt for seasoning foods.
• When cooking beans, put kombu in the cooking water. It will expedite cooking and improve the beans’ digestibility.
• Add sea vegetables to your next bowl of soup—not just miso, but any kind.