What are Sea Vegetables?
Sea vegetables are wild ocean plants, or marine algae, enjoyed daily as staple and healing foods in many coastal parts of the world. Small amounts of sea veggies add a rich flavor and enhance the nutritional value of most dishes. These exceptionally vital plants inhabit the fertile, energetic region where ocean meets land; from the very exposed high tide mark to the constantly immersed bottom just below low tide. They inhabit all the world’s oceans.
While there are many species of sea veggies, only a modest number have a history as human food. Sea vegetables are categorized by color group: red (6,000 species), brown (2,000 species), and green (1,200 species.) Popular American sea vegetables are Dulse, Kelp, Alaria, Laver, from the east coast, and Sea Palm from the west coast. Asian varieties include Nori, Hiziki, Arame, Kombu and Wakame. We provide Dulse, Kelp, Digitata, Alaria , Laver, Sushi Nori, Irish Moss, Sea Lettuce,Rockweed, and Bladderwrack.
Why should I eat sea vegetables? How are they good for me?
Sea vegetables are rich in minerals and trace elements, including calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, iodine, manganese, chromium and more, at levels much greater than those found in land vegetables. Sea veggies also provide vitamins, fiber, enzymes, and high quality protein. Marine phytochemicals found only in sea vegetables have been shown to absorb and eliminate radioactive elements and heavy metal contaminants from our bodies. Other recent research demonstrates the inhibition of tumor formation, reduction of cholesterol, and anti-viral properties of sea vegetables.
How do I include sea vegetables in my diet — is it difficult?
It’s really quite convenient. Simply add small amounts of cut, bite sized pieces to your favorite soups, salads, sandwiches and stir-fries. Each Maine Coast package comes with instructions and recipe suggestions. To get started cooking with sea vegetables, go to the Recipes section and read Basic Prep section for each sea veggie.
Sea vegetables’ strong taste and odor surprise some people. Remember that dried sea vegetables are a highly vital wild food and provide highly concentrated nutrition — a little goes a long way, and most easy Maine Coast recipes use less than one quarter ounce per serving! Sea vegetables are sometimes rinsed or soaked in fresh water before use, but often this is unnecessary. Dulse, for instance, is eaten right out of the bag as a healthy, “salty” snack. We suggest eating a variety of sea vegetables for maximum nutrition and taste.
Where and how do we harvest sea vegetables?
We sustainably harvest native sea vegetables locally from the clear, cold northern Gulf of Maine waters. Experienced harvesters carefully hand gather the sea vegetables from their pristine beds at the peak of nutrition. They are then sun-dried or low temperature air-dried, graded for quality, and monitored for possible herbicide, pesticide, heavy metal, and bacteriological contamination. This is all part of the organic certification process following OCIA Standards for harvesting and handling wild sea vegetables. For more information see The Harvest.
Where can I find recipes?
Recipe suggestions are found on the back of each sea veggie package. You will find a more extensive selection of recipes on our Recipes page of this website. We offer an excellent seaweed cookbook on our Online Store: Sea Vegetable Celebrationis a cookbook and reference book by Shep Erhart, MCSV owner, and noted organic chef Leslie Cerier, containing over 100 vegetarian recipes, plus 40 pages of biological, nutritional and practical info on all your favorite sea vegetables, American and Asian.
How do I store my sea veggies?
Sea veggies, dried vegetables rich in mineral salts, keep well unless subjected to a lot of moisture, heat and/or direct light. They have a shelf life at least 2 years at room temperature in tightly sealed container out of direct light. Recommended storage containers are our re-sealable bags or, for bulk amounts, glass jars with screw top lids. It is not a good idea to rinse sea veggies and store unless you’re going to use in 24-48 hrs or refrigerate.
If sea veggies are stored in conditions of excessive moisture or heat, mold or deterioration may occur which is readily visible as discoloration or smell-able as mushrooms or seafood past their prime. Sea veggies also readily absorb odors, so keep them in a tightly sealed container. Sometimes as plants dry out a whitish powder will appear; this powder consists of precipitated salts and sugars and is safe to eat. You can rinse or use as is.
If your sea veggies dry out, you can rehydrate by putting a piece of lettuce, slice of apple or damp paper towel in the bag and leaving it for a day or two. If kelp or alaria becomes brittle, just lightly sprinkle or soak until rehydrated to your taste. Direct light will bleach the plants over time. This probably has some effect on nutritional quality, although we have done no studies. If a visual inspection doesn’t indicate any problems, the product should be fine to use safely.
To Rinse or Not to Rinse?
Our sea vegetables are sometimes rinsed or soaked in fresh water before use, but often this is unnecessary. Dulse, for instance, is eaten right out of the bag as a healthy, “salty” snack. Kelp is often lightly soaked and rehydrated (it expands!) so it can be cut into attractive shapes and sizes. In any case, a light rinse before use lessens sea vegetables’ salty taste. You will lose some sodium and potassium salts, but very little if any calcium, iron, magnesium, etc. You can save the rinse water for cooking.
You may want to inspect the plants for tiny shells (periwinkles) before use. We do our best but sometimes they hide in the folds. Simply dip the plants in water long enough to unfold them and release any shells.
What about the strong aroma?
Dulse does indeed have a relatively strong odor. With a lot of it around, if it is a smell that you are sensitive to or not used to, it might be a little unpleasant. One reason that it smells so strong is that it’s a highly concentrated, dehydrated food. See “How do I store my Sea Veggies?” (above) As long is there is no mold or other signs or smells of deterioration (caused by being stored too damp and/or warm) the product is fine to eat. Storing in a tightly sealed glass or plastic jar will help keep the odor from permeating the kitchen or pantry.
What about the whitish surface powder?
Don’t worry about the white powdery substance on the surface of stored plants! Sometimes as these plants dry out a whitish powder will appear; this powder consists of precipitated salts and sugars and is safe to eat — you can rinse or use as is. In kelp, the principle sugar is mannitol and the salts are predominantly potassium and sodium. Mannitol is much less “sweet” than fructose, sucrose, glucose or pentose, and even less sweet than complex sugars found in brown rice syrup, yet it still adds a subtle flavor quality. This, along with the high mineral component and the naturally occurring glutamic acid is why kelp makes beans taste so great, cook so quickly and digest so easily.
This whitish powder also appears on dulse sometimes, but not as often. It seems harder to manage the osmotic process in the brown sea weeds (kelp and alaria) than the reds (dulse and laver), perhaps because the brown sea veggies are thicker. While we are more skilled than ever at handling all our sea veggies from harvest to packaging, sea veggies are not processed to the point of total control. This is actually one of their unique selling points: minimally processed whole foods, enzymes intact.
What about Sea Veggies as Raw Foods?
Sea Veggies can contribute a lot to a raw/living foods diet: minerals, enzymes, vitamins, protein, healing fiber, and marine phytochemicals. All Maine Coast sea vegetables except toasted sushi nori sheets and nori flakes are dried under low temp conditions (less than 105°F). Dulse is our most popular vegetable for raw fooders — it is succulent and sort of melts right in your mouth. It is easily cut into salads, added to cold soups, and in the flake, granule, or powder form is easily blended in drinks. All of our Sea Veggies can be eaten uncooked, right out of the bag but are quite chewy and really call for soaking or marinating in vinegar or citrus juice. To our best knowledge, the Japanese sea vegetables arame, hijiki, and wakame are all processed with heat above 105° F. In fact the arame and hijiki are often boiled or blanched. If you are new to sea veggies, we suggest you start out with the small reclosable bags.
How do I use Sea Veggies for Healthy Skin and Hair?
In many Asian nations, beautiful healthy hair and skin and nails are attributed to the regular use of sea veggies in food, soap and shampoo. Exactly how seaweed works on skin and hair is still under investigation, but it is thought that a combination of factors such as the abundance of organic colloidal minerals, particularly calcium, silica, iron and phosphorous; the emulsifying alginates (fibrous material) that cleanse surface toxins, emulsify oils and de-acidify; and the abundance of iodine, amino acids, active enzymes, beta carotenes, B-vitamins, etc.
If you want to experiment, try mixing 1 tsp. of our powdered kelp (Laminaria digitata) with 3/4 cup of warm water, wait about a 1/2 hour until the alginate gels develop fully and strain the remaining particles. The remaining viscous liquid, used as a shampoo or simple hand soap, is cleansing and moisturizing. You can try some whole kelp (or alaria, bladderwrack or evendulse) in your next bath. A cheesecloth bag will keep the seaweed from clogging your drain but will allow it to release its mucilaginous material that is so good for your skin and hair.
For more detailed information, please read our cookbook and resource guide Sea Vegetable Celebration, pp 35-38.
What about sea vegetables as Animal Food?
Most domesticated animals are far from their original diets and need broad-based mineral support just as we do. They may also benefit from this sea vegetable source of chelated, colloidal trace elements as opposed to the inorganic mineral salts that leave a free metal ion in the digestive tract. We receive numerous reports from customers who have successfully fed our sea vegetables to their dogs, cats, fish, hamsters, iguanas, etc. Dog and cat owners claim not only healthier animals but also healthier, fuller coats.
Milled kelp (kelp “meal”) has been fed to cattle, sheep, chickens, and other barnyard animals for decades. For specially formulated seaweed based products designed for domestic animals and for feeding suggestions, try www.4source.com andwww.noamkelp.com. For a more detailed discussion of this general topic, please read our cookbook and resource guide Sea Vegetable Celebration, pp 32-33.
What about sea vegetables as Plant Food?
Sea vegetables have been used worldwide as a source of nourishment for plants by coastal people for centuries. Besides contributing a broad spectrum of abundant minerals, the brown varieties such as kelp and rockweed provide cytokinen, a natural growth accelerator that also increases flowering, intensifies color, and may increase total yield.
In the garden, till in fresh seaweed, mulch with it, or compost it with a good carbon source like grass clippings or hay. For sickly plants or houseplants make “kelp tea” by steeping some dried kelp overnight in enough water to cover and pouring the brown brew on the roots or spray the leaves. A more detailed discussion of growing plants with sea vegetables can be found in our cookbook and resource guide Sea Vegetable Celebration, pp 34-35.
We sell small amounts of dry seaweed not suitable for human consumption but excellent for composting or tilling in the soil. It is $2.25 per pound plus shipping. Contact us firstname.lastname@example.org.