How can we get more seaweed in our daily diet?
JP McMahon: This ancient food is rich in all the stuff that could help ward off disease
Seaweed: a nutritious and delicious food. Photograph: iStock
How can we get more seaweed in our daily diet? It’s a question I was asked a few weeks ago while on stage at the Theatre of Food at Electric Picnic. I was giving a talk about the importance of seaweed, not only for our health but also historically as a foodstuff that has kept many coastal communities going through the ages.
As I’ve said many times before in this column, seaweed is one of our first foods. It was there when the first immigrants came to Ireland more than 10,000 years ago. It was a nutritious fast food then and it still is now. When we eat seaweed I feel we are reaching back into time without tongues and minds, savouring those sweet and saline notes of fresh sea lettuce and dillisk.
But now in our daily lives we rarely have time to pop down to the beach and collect enough seaweed for lunch or dinner. I suppose we’ve just moved on from that way of life. Anytime I go down to forage, I get the strangest looks, as if I’ve just landed from another planet and discovered a new way of life. Perhaps the next time you see a seaweed picker, you may reserve judgment or maybe just join them!
Thankfully, dried seaweed is now readily available in many shops throughout the country. It usually comes milled or whole. The milled one (my favourite is milled nori) can be added to soups (potato and leek) pastries (chocolate brownie), or used as a seasoning (chicken and lamb). The whole varieties (I love sugar kelp) can be rehydrated and used in stews, as a substitute for pasta (cut into noodles) or to wrap whole fish before roasting (it’s great with flat fish such as turbot or plaice).
Aside from the wonderful umami flavour that seaweed brings to your food, it’s also rich in vitamins, minerals and all the good stuff that keeps big diseases at bay. There is interesting research being done regarding the anti-carcinogenic properties of brown seaweeds in Japan. The residents of Okinawa have the lowest cancer mortality rate possibly because of the tradition of eating uncooked kombu.