- Food and Cooking
Seaweed: Bounty from the Oceans
Some pics of common seaweed
We May Already Use Seaweed Every Day
Strange how useful plants that grow in salt and fresh water are collectively known as weeds. A land plant receiving that disparaging sobriquet is, often mistakenly, seen as useless and to be destroyed. Actually, seaweed is neither a plant nor a weed, but nearly all are multicultural members of the large family of Algae, either green, red or brown.
Seaweed already has many uses to the creatures of the sea, some who eat it and others who hide in its often luxuriant growth. There, they attach their eggs to it, which hatch out into fry, also using the growth as a safe haven until they mature.
One mechanism useless to most seaweeds is a root system as they extract their nutrients from the water around them, using the sunlight filtering down to their level for photosynthesis, as do all plants. They do have small, modified roots which act as gripping devices to anchor them to rocks or to hold them against the currents on the sea floor. (called “holdfasts”). The growth (fronds) flares out from this stem, or “stipe,” and can reproduce when the plants are cut, providing a sufficient length is left between the cut and the stipe; worth knowing for gatherers of seaweed. Some seaweeds are independent of any anchoring systems and float, held by the forces of wind and current. The best know are the “Sargassum” forming the mysterious Sargasso Sea, that huge (700 by 2000 mile) feared expanse, the only “sea without shores” where ships were held in the “horse latitude” doldrums, bereft of wind or propulsion, until their crews went mad or the wind blew again.
We have been backward in many Western nations with regard to consumption of seaweed: plants which are often nutrient, vitamin and mineral rich; moreover, they are free for the gathering and seem in unlimited supply once you know where to find them and the ones best suited for the table.
Commercial enterprise is way ahead of the individual consumer in the First World. Seaweed extracts have been used in paint, cosmetics and toothpaste. They are high in calcium and magnesium and have been used in food supplements and vitamin pills. High in iodine, seaweed extract has found its way into boosters for the flagging male thyroid gland. More obscurely, it is also used in field dressings and dental moulds. Seaweed has long been used as a fertilizer and I can remember local farmers in Thanet, Kent, coming down to the beach for hundreds of tons of dried seaweed after it had been washed ashore by spring tides and shredding it onto their fields from muck spreaders. More recently, seaweed has found an important place in experiments with Bioethanol to help in the losing battle with the fossil-fuel resources, the Middle Eastern owner’s of which are holding the rest of us to ransom.
Here are some of the more common edible seaweeds, along with their photos in the picture section:-
Sea Lettuce (Ulva lactuca) Found on most shores in many countries attached to rocks and stones. Leafy, broad fronds, often found in a habitat where a river, etc., joins the sea.
Serve raw, chopped, with rice and vinegar and soy sauce.
Kelp (Laminaria digitata) Once sold in Scotland under the name ”tangle.” Made into a jelly in France. Another type of Kelp (bladder wrack) makes a salad veggie.
Dulce and (Pulmaria palmatta) Can be eaten raw as salad or boiled (simmer for up to 4 hours) replaces cabbage.
Pepper Dulce (Laurencia pinnatifida) Pungent spice item, also doubles as chewing tobacco!
Purple Laver (Porphyra umbilicalis) All round Britain. Delicacy in Wales where it is still gathered commercially. Also farmed in Japan on beds of bamboo. Used for sauces , soups and stews all over East Asia; mainly for Laver Bread and Laver Mutton Sauce in UK.
Carrageen, or Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus) Found on Atlantic shores. Used as a thickener for soups and stews, also in edible sausage skins.
There’s not a whole heap of information around about seaweed; I hope to add to this hub after I turn some literary stones up.
Note: Avoid Mermaid's Hair seaweed as is toxic with complicated chemicals that cause lesions in man and big problems in the marine environment, too.