Seaweed, much like the one we eat with our sushi, is from the algae family, including red, brown and green algae. Seaweed is generally consumed by Asians, though some countries like Scotland, Chile, Peru, Wales, and Scandinavia are also consumers. In Asia, the sheets of seaweed are dried to make nori, used primarily in soups and to wrap sushi. It is also flavored and salted and enjoyed with sake and beer. Gourmet brands can be purchased. Usually, the more expensive nori is a better grade, and stands up better for sushi making.
Seaweed can be farmed or foraged in the wild, most likely the ocean. In 2011, Indonesia became the largest producer of seaweed, surpassing the Philippines, with over 3 tons of seaweed. Seaweed is also harvested or cultivated for the extraction of alginate, agar, and carrageenan. Red algae or Porphyra, is used in Wales to make laver. Laver bread is a combination of oats and laver, a very popular Welsh dish.
Laver and toast
The alginates from the seaweed are used for wound dressings, and the production of dental moulds. Agar, similar to gelatin, is used extensively in laboratories as a culture medium. Seaweed is also a great source of iodine, and may have some curative effects for colds, flu, tuberculosis, arthritis, tumors, and even radiation poisoning. Some seaweed is used as fertilizer, compost, and as an ingredient in toothpaste, cosmetics and paints.
Growing seaweed requires saltwater and enough sunlight to produce photosynthesis. Another common requirement is an attachment point. Many seaweed varieties have adapted to tide pools, rocky shores, known as the littoral zone. Most species of seaweed are green (over 1500), brown (1800), and red (6200).
I encourage you, upon your next visit to a Japanese grocery store, to spend a few minutes in the nori or dried seaweed section. You will see seaweed in every shape and form, some salted, some flavored, some cheap, some gourmet. The best ones are form Japan, of course. I would definitely stay away from the dried seaweed from China, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The best selection I have ever seen would be in the supermarkets of Japan. For something closer to home, try Uwajimaya in Seattle.
My Mom told me a childhood story that was rather touching. Back when she and her older sister took their lunches from home, they were often just given a ball of rice (nigiri), sometimes covered with a piece of nori. She would try to hide it from the other kids so they would not laugh at her. Now, I wonder, after all these years, who should do the laughing, and who should do the drooling?
What might be the funniest seaweed quote of all time? How about “The LIttle Mermaid” in 1989. with “The seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake?” Perhaps even more interesting is that seaweed can grow up to 12 inches per day!
Seaweed is nature’s duct tape. It works well at holding together rolls of sushi as well as fixing a mermaid’s broken bikini top.
Great use of seaweed, The Mermaid Collection