Outside of sushi, when have you ever even contemplated the idea of eating seaweed? Never. Here’s why that needs to change!

Seaweed use in British cuisine has certainly faded over the last few hundreds of years. If you’ve been to the coast you’ve almost certainly encountered it and let’s be honest, your reaction is to put on your strongest regional accent and bellow “ERRRRRRRR SEAWEED!” 

Admittedly, seaweed might not seem appealing on the face of things  but in the kitchen each species is just as useful as the next. Let’s start simply, why should we be eating more seaweed? 

Easy. Seaweed is a sustainability machine! It detoxifies air and the ocean, removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Seabloom Food produces vegan friendly fish products combining plant protein and seaweed in an attempt to replicate those flavours and nutrients in the sea.  

CEO and Founder, Greta Desforges-Hodgson believes farming seaweed could be a huge step forward to combating climate change: “These farms have a negative carbon footprint, require no land or irrigation, while reversing the impact humans have had on our ocean.” 

One of the craziest things about seaweed is that you can get it for free! Seaweed couldn’t be any easier to pick. It doesn’t move and it can’t swim away. The hardest part is doing your research on the tides so you don’t put yourself in any danger. Choose a clean area of coastline away from any pollutants and you’re good to go.

Craig Worall is a Wild Food Guide (@edible.leeds) and Chef at 4 Wild Seasons, he takes groups out to forests, beaches and parks to show them how and where to forage. He often picks Seaweed on his visits to UK coasts because they are in vast abundance. 

Sustainability is key for foragers like Craig, he highlighted the importance of ensuring the plants you pick are in good supply. He said: “A little bit of seaweed goes a long way (in cooking) meaning you can truly pick sustainably without having a negative impact on the colony.” 

Craig struggling against his green opponent in the underwater wrestling championship!

After all that you may still be thinking that using seaweed sounds ridiculous. It’s difficult to even imagine what it tastes like and which seaweed to begin with.

Donald Deschagt, the self proclaimed @SeaweedChef, is the founder of Studio Zeewier and chef patron at Le Homard et la Moule restaurant in Belgium where he specialises in cooking with seaweed and other sea vegetables.

He insists before continuing you should drop any pre-existing thoughts about seaweed and begin with subtle introductions: “Don’t turn your nose up at something you don’t know!, learn to appreciate it, try to apply it subtly in your kitchen and maybe one day you will replace the salt on your fries with seaweed!”

An influx of Japanese food outlets in the UK in the last decade or two has given the opportunity for more adventurous Western eaters to try some seaweeds often but not exclusively coming in the form of a salad, ramen or sushi.

“Sushi chains are a gateway drug. They get you comfortable with the unfamiliar flavours of dried seaweed.”

Professor Eric C Rath, Japanese Food Historian and Author

These flavours are foreign to a lot of people… Wait a second, you haven’t been introduced to any seaweeds yet? We best get on with it!

First up we have kelp, it grows in abundance on UK shores and is extremely versatile. They’re naturally packed with MSG (monosodium glutamate), which makes it brilliant for flavouring broths. It can also be dried really easily, pickled, powdered, fermented or eaten raw. Once dried you can sprinkle this magic dust on top of any dish to give it an extra umami finish.

According to WebMD a 28 gram serving contains 5g Protein and is high in Vitamin K, Calcium, Iron and Iodine. However, this doesn’t mean you should shovel it down your cake-hole in large quantities. 

Too much Iodine can be dangerous especially if you have thyroid problems. On the other hand, too little Iodine is dangerous so finding the right balance is important.

Kombu hung out to dry (Credit Joichi Ito)

In Japan some seaweed from the Laminareacae family of Kelp is dried and preserved to make Kombu. This is an icon in Japan where it is often paired with fermented skipjack tuna (Katsuobushi) in a broth to create traditional dashi broth.

Kombu use in Japan dates back to the mediaeval period where it was viewed as a luxury by all. In some cases Kombu was just as much a symbol as it was a food source. 


Kombu hung out to dry (Credit Joichi Ito)

Let’s take a swim back in time to Medieval Japan with Professor Rath to find out just how important Kombu was within pre modern tradition and culture: “If someone was entertaining the shogun for a banquet (military dictator) they would begin with a drinking ceremony where they would sink nine cups of Sake.

Meanwhile, symbolic foods were served, but these foods weren’t to be eaten.

Each item had a highly symbolic meaning to the military. Chestnuts would symbolise victory, abalone would symbolise smiting the enemy and kombu would symbolise happiness. 

The warriors would think about these symbols and their meanings while tanking up on the good stuff to instil a fierce mentality.”

The word kombu is derived from ‘Kobu’ which stems from Yorokobu (喜ぶ) . This means something that’s very happy, lucky and felicitous. Kombu still carries cultural significance for the Japanese today. 

Red colour bands on wrapping at department stores symbolise Kombu because traditionally it was often given as a gift. 

Next in line is red algae. An umbrella name for a host of species. Its Japanese variant is famously dried and turned into thin squares to create the phenomenon that is Nori sheets.

The UK is also host to a red algae variant called Laver and can be used in the same way as its Japanese cousin. The laver species is also the star of Welsh speciality Laverbread.

Due to the increasing popularity of Japanese cuisine in the UK, Nori sheets are now available in the majority of large UK supermarkets where it is imported from Japan. This influx proves there is a growing demand in the UK and Europe for seaweed but it’s still not even close to being a household item in kitchens.

Chef Deschagt has dedicated his last 12 years to changing peoples perceptions of seaweed by pairing it with fresh seafood in his Belgian based restaurant. Through innovation and hard work he has created a one of a kind restaurant that is singlehandedly creating interest in seaweeds of all varieties by introducing it to peoples palates.

He believes he’s seen a change of opinion towards it: “There’s been a nice evolution from ‘turning up the nose’ at even hearing the word seaweed, to an openness to trying it. no longer just out of curiosity, but mainly focused on the ‘healthy’ aspect of it, on the fact that meat and fish may become scarce in the long term and that we must urgently learn to accept alternatives.”

Eel in the green by Chef Deschagt

Seaweed has the potential to be a great ally to vegans and vegetarians already cutting meat and fish out of their diets. Desforges-Hodgson explained why: “Finding plant based options with Iodine and Omega-3 is a hurdle for both vegans and vegetarians. Seaweed contains both”

If you’ve made it this far you might be flirting with the idea of trying some seaweed yourself but what’s it like to actually visit these quiet coastlines and pick some of that salty green stuff.

Worall insisted the best bit of foraging for seaweed is the unpredictable adventures searching for it: “I’ve had amazing adventures on the Northumberland coastline. 

There’s a spit of rocks that head out into the sea and everytime I go the channels create a set of steps down to the kelp forests that pop up above the water. The view is phenomenal; castles down the coast, seabirds and seals in front of me and even dolphins swimming into the distance. It’s just peaceful and zen.”

On this short but salty journey through the jungle of the seaside we have explored just a morsel of what seaweed has to offer. 

Knowledge is key when it comes to stepping into the unknown so do your own research. Go on your own journey with seaweed. 

Chef Deschagt reminisced about the first chapter of his seaweed adventure: “We end where the story began, by the end of 2011, my wife and I were invited by marine biologist Prof. Dr. Colin Janssen for a private dinner, where we were able to taste all the finds from the beach and sea. 

During that dinner our love for seaweed, algae and everything around it was born…” 

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if it starts by carrying some around big Tesco in your trolley or getting down and dirty in the sand, seaweed has something to offer to everybody and our planet.