Nori SeaweedBy Hanna Raskin, Epicurious.com
"What do you think?," a fellow participant on a recent edible seaweed expedition asked me, wrapping a wide sheet of sea lettuce around her waist. "Could this be a skirt?"
In the right circles, possibly, but seaweed advocates would prefer if Americans started eating the kelp, wakame, and nori that thrive along the nation's coasts. Seattle nutritionist Jennifer Adler, who led the foraging adventure, says seaweed's dietary properties are "magical."
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"Seaweed is such a perfect match for our body," says Adler, who credits seaweed with clarifying skin, thickening hair, detoxifying organs, combating radiation, and strengthening bones.
"It makes kale look like iceberg lettuce," she adds.
Seaweed is also highly sustainable, an attribute that appeals to Pacific Northwest foragers who don't want to disrupt the ecosystem for their thyroids' sakes. Bullwhip kelp grows 18 inches a day, or nearly twice as quickly as kudzu. So long as harvesters just snip seaweed blades--Adler calls it a "haircut"--seaweed populations will remains as healthy as the people feasting on them.
Another advantage of seaweed worth recalling should you ever find yourself marooned: Every seaweed variety is edible. While they're not all equally tasty, the greatest harm that can befell a misguided forager is a nasty stomachache. That's a plus in a region where motivated natural food fans have made serious mistakes with mushrooms.
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Seaweed is so abundant that a harvester armed with a pair of scissors can collect a yearly supply of fucus in fewer than five minutes. Yet remarkably few eaters have picked up seaweed habits: The seaweed wrapped around sushi rolls, floating in miso soups and served in salads at Japanese restaurants represents most Americans' only encounter with the stuff. In other cultures where seaweed was once routinely consumed, it's now considered fit for animal feed. Seaweed has suffered from associations with poverty and pre-industrial collecting techniques, Adler says.
The dirty clumps of seaweed that beachcombers confront haven't helped either.
"It's the compost of the ocean," Adler says, referring to seaweed's function as a water purifier.
Still, Adler believes many contemporary eaters are ready to rethink their position on seaweed. She suspects they'll ultimately succumb to seaweed's health benefits and sustainability, adding dried seaweed flakes to their pancakes, eggs, and potato salad, same as she does.
At the seaweed expedition in the San Juan Islands, Adler served avocado grapefruit salad made with arame; ginger and lime tofu made with ground kelp; summer pea and fennel soup made with kombu and artichoke croquettes seasoned with dulse flakes.
"It's not so much about having a seaweed salad as it's about incorporating seaweed in anything you eat," Adler says.
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Photo: CN Digital Studio