SF Super Foods: Seaweed
SF SuperFoods spotligts local foods that are both delicious and packed with powerful health-promoting nutrients.
By Rachel Cole
WHAT IT IS: Seaweeds are nutrient-rich vegetables harvested from coastal waters. Enjoyed for thousands of years, these plants are an important part of many Asian cuisines; historically they have been found in the diets of the Aztec, Viking, Irish, Scottish, and Maori peoples. Today, most packaged food products and even cosmetics contain processed sea vegetables, but in natural form, few foods are as delicious, versatile, and nutrientdense as fresh seaweed. Just like all vegetables, seaweed is seasonal, coming in slowly in late spring with the bulk of the crop picked in June and July.
HEALTH BENEFITS: Ocean waters impart each seaweed variety with a unique abundance of important minerals, including calcium, boron, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, sodium, and other beneficial trace nutrients. The high concentration of iodine helps to support the endocrine system, especially proper thyroid functioning. They are rich in protein and a range of vitamins, including A, C, E, and B complex. Seaweeds are also prized for their powerful detoxifying properties.
AT HOME: An increasingly wide selection of sea vegetables is available in grocery stores. While certain varieties are imported here from Japan or coastal Maine, the unparalleled clean waters of the nearby Mendocino coast provide a wonderful and diverse selection to choose from. Popular locally harvested varieties include: Nori: A salty yet sweet seaweed, commonly pressed into sheets and used for making sushi rolls. Local Nori, however, is available in unpressed, natural leaf form. It's great dry-toasted in a pan or the oven and added to a wide array of dishes, including salads, warm grains, or roasted vegetables. Mendocino Kombu: A dark, meaty, flavor-imparting seaweed rich in iodine. Classically Kombu is used to make dashi, a Japanese stock commonly used in miso soup. It can also be added to a pot of dried beans to soften them as they cook and enhance their digestibility. Mendocino Wakame: A mild, sweet, and tender seaweed. Like Kombu, it can be used to make dashi and soups, as well as briefly rehydrated and added to almost any dish, including bean and grain salads, soups, and casseroles. Sea Palm: A mild seaweed that's great simply sautéed with other vegetables, added to slaws, or crumbled dry into trail mix. It is sometimes labeled "Sea Crunchies" in grocery stores. Dulse: A soft, salty, rust-colored seaweed found in small quantities locally, though Atlantic Dulse is more common in stores. It comes in leaf, flake, and granulated forms and can be enjoyed raw or cooked, rehydrated or dried, and even sprinkled over top most dishes as an iron-rich replacement for salt. Try it over scrambled eggs, popcorn, or added to vinaigrettes. If you are interested in expanding your seaweed repertoire, hijiki, arame, and agar (a good substitute for gelatin) are a few great imported varieties.
EATING OUT: At Delica rF-1, a lunch hotspot in the Ferry Building, sea vegetable offerings include everything from a simple, soothing organic miso soup with Wakame to the deliciously complex Hijiki-soybean salad with mountain potato, daikon radish, wild mizuna, fried tofu, and wolfberries. At Ame in the St. Regis, Chef Hiro Sone prepares fish using a traditional Japanese method called Kombujime, where it is cured inside a Kombu wrap that imparts a savory umami flavor. Daniel Patterson, executive chef at Coi, is working on innovative creations that use fresh local seaweeds in dishes, such as a poached and seared Beck Farms pheasant with cauliflower, borage, and Mendocino Wakame, Sea Palm, and Kombu.
SOURCING IT: You can purchase Mendocino seaweeds and imported varieties at Rainbow Grocery, Whole Foods, Bi-Rite Market, and Other Avenues Food Cooperative. Three active local harvesting companies take great care in sustainably wildcrafting the sea vegetables so as to maintain the reproductive health of the plants for next year's harvest. You can purchase seaweed directly from them as well: Mendocino Sea Vegetable Company (www.seaweed.net), Ocean Harvest Sea Vegetable Collective (www.ohsv.net), and Rising Tide Sea Vegetables (www.loveseaweed.com).
STORAGE: Because seaweeds are dried, it is important to store them in moisture-proof containers in dry areas.
Rachel Cole just completed a master's in holistic health education from John F. Kennedy University. Her writing and photos have been published on the websites Mighty Foods, Ethicurean, Eggbeater, and Eat Grub. She is interested in the many ways that making deep connections at the table can bring about well-being.
This content was published in the June/July 2008 Edible San Francisco Magazine. © 2008 Edible San Francisco.