One trend, three trailblazers

Three ways with: seaweed

It’s an underrated umami powerhouse, but what should you be doing with this oceanic ‘superfood’? Three experts share their thoughts on seaweed.

27 August 2017
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image credit: JamesYetMingAu-Photography/iStock/thinkstock.co.uk

The trend

  • Seaweed is an umbrella term that refers to more than a dozen varieties, from kombu to wakame to arame
  • It’s packed with vitamins A, B, and C, iron, zinc, magnesium, iodine and soluble fibre
  • Seaweed is generally thought of belonging to the Asian market, but the Irish have been eating laver bread for centuries

Your average consumer may well have enjoyed the nori wrapped around their Pret sushi, or nibbled on Itsu’s seaweed thins, but unless they’re particularly up on either Japanese cuisine or spurious claims about the latest ‘superfoods’, chances are that’s where their seaweed know-how ends.

But now whispers abound that seaweed is the new healthy ingredient on the block, threatening to topple kale’s crown. Michael Whiteman, president of international food consultancy Baum + Whiteman says: “We’re nearing peak kale capacity, but it’s fast being replaced by seaweed, especially when used in increasingly popular dishes like ramen.”

Seaweed has been on the scene in the UK for a couple of years: inherited from the US health food market, sales suddenly soared by 125% over here in 2015, when Jamie Oliver claimed it helped him lose weight.

Now it’s been spotted on menus at The M in Shoreditch and Balcon in St James. Brighton has its own dedicated (and much-lauded) seafood restaurant, GB1, and last year Waitrose announced it was stocking a fresh offering, with other supermarkets swiftly following suit.

Helping seaweed transcend the health food aisle into the mainstream UK food scene are the likes of the Cornish Seaweed Company and Edinburgh’s Mara Seaweed, which sell sustainably harvested, local, edible seaweeds to chefs and shops alike.

And as sustainability looms large in our minds, seaweed garnered another boon – it is considered one of the foremost answers to tomorrow’s food shortage questions. But how to convert an unconvinced consumer? Read on, dear reader…

 

The trailblazers

image credit: kate.whittaker
Nathan Outlaw, two Michelin-starred chef and restaurant-owner: “Try a seaweed and cockle risotto. I love the pairing of cockles and seaweed, but you could use any seafood in place of the cockles, or even a mixture of seafood if you wish. Similarly, any good seaweed will work, even crushed nori sheets that you buy for sushi – it just needs to be dehydrated and blitzed, to tenderise in the risotto. Not only is the seaweed nutritionally dense but it also adds an extra layer of flavour to the dish without overworking it, which is vital in a risotto – it remains clean and clear.”

 

Fiona Houston and Xa Milne, co-founders of Mara Seaweed, Edinburgh, and co-authors of Seaweed and Eat It – A Family Foraging and Cooking Adventure: “You don’t have to use fresh seaweed to get that moreish umami hit. Powders work really well. I like to toss popcorn or skinny fries in kombu powder to give it that rich, earthy flavour without being too salty, and this works really well if you add oregano or rosemary to it.”

 

Marcus Harrison, author of Cooking with Seaweed: 101+ Ways and owner of Cornwall-based Wild Food School, which runs foraging classes: “I really enjoy a seaweed pickle. I tend to make it with fresh seaweed, mainly the tender green types like sea lettuce, and make this half an hour or so before it is needed. These give a deliciously punchy flavour that works well with a spicy fish curry, or similar. Or just use it as a gutsy or unusual condiment to go with salad.” 

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