Seaweeds were the first plants on earth and have been in existence for the last three and a half billion years. They are the very foundation of the food chain and have played an important role from the very beginning of life on earth.
Seaweed & Human History
Seaweed has been a readily available food source consumed by coastal communities since the dawn of time. As archaeological investigations in Chile testify, seaweeds have been used by humans for about 14,000 years. In Asia, their culinary usage can be traced back to three thousand years ago. Despite their common association with Asian cuisine, seaweeds have strong historical roots in other parts of the world, spanning many continents and cultures, from the Vikings to the Native Indians of America, the Aztec to the Pacific Islanders. Different seaweeds grow in different oceans; seaweed has long been a widespread staple ingredient in the diet although uses and traditions vary with available species and climate.
Seaweed consumption as a food has largely disappeared in the Western World. The traditions related to their extraordinary nutritional & medicinal value have somewhat been lost - mostly since WW1 when we discovered how to extract elements which led to the birth of pharmaceutical products & allopathic medicine - therefore, it is a family of foods that has largely been ignored and become misunderstood. For many, seaweed is considered a 'Asian food' because that is much of what remains today of its culinary past; Asian nations have kept seaweed in their diet the same way they have kept their traditional medicine & nutrition alongside what new technology is providing.
Now this is changing. With interest in seaweeds growing around the Western world as they appear increasingly frequently on menus and in food publications, health conscious & food lovers alike are ready to experiment beyond sushi and miso soup. Seaweeds are stimulating the taste buds & culinary creativity of many because they open a new world of flavours, textures and colours. They add an extra dimension to any dish because their versatility allows them a wide range of culinary applications and their nutritional value is simply astounding.
Like different vegetables, various seaweeds appeal to the senses in a different way and have unique culinary properties - some tenderise meat and beans, others are noodles or gelatine substitute and even replacement for salt . Each one lends itself to a variety of culinary treatments.
Beside their tantalising culinary qualities, seaweeds have very compelling wellness properties. They are a nutrition powerhouse and contain unique disease fighting compounds. Classified in 3 groups related to their pigmentation - red, brown & green - each group provides unique compelling nutritional qualities; each variety is like a different vegetable with its unique appeal and exclusive nutritional profile. Generally speaking though, seaweeds support our body's optimum functioning by providing key building blocs for detoxifying, nourishing & balancing its many internal processes. Read about their different chemistry & physiology.
With the epidemic of persistent medical conditions associated with lifestyle, there has been an increased focus on 'clean eating' which has inspired a return to basic, to foods naturally high in nutrients. In Europe and America, there is a constant flow of communications featuring seaweed as highly beneficial for a wide range of conditions.
All is required is to learn how to use seaweed regularly! Only small amounts are required, check our Recipe section for inspiration.
Take a peek at Kate's article on seaweeds: