Several people have asked about my last post, Skipping the Middle Fish and Going Straight to the Source, saying that they have been concerned about mercury and other toxins in fish, and it makes sense to go straight to the source for the nutrition, and eat sea vegetables. You may also be asking the question that if there is mercury and toxins in fish, why wouldn’t they also be in the sea vegetables?
Most research shows that while anything from the sea is vulnerable to mercury and toxins, levels in sea vegetables are lower than in fish. According to Livestrong, “A study published in the 2009 issue of the “Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health” indicates that seaweed presented a relatively low quantity of mercury in the Korean diet, where seaweed is eaten frequently — 0.02 mg per person per day compared with the 1.8 mg per person per day from seafood, considered to be the greatest mercury risk (and) the small risk might be mitigated by the health benefits of seaweed.”
Dangers of contamination can be further reduced or eliminated by purchasing “certified organic sea vegetables”. Most reputable companies have test results that are far below accepted safe standards. Fortunately, there are no known allergies to sea vegetables, so pretty much everyone is safe to incorporate them into the diet.
TYPES OF SEA VEGETABLES
Finding sea vegetables in a normal grocery store is likely impossible, though you might check the health foods section. But I’ve noticed quite a few different types of sea vegetables at my local Whole Foods and New Seasons. These marketing terms are mainly broad categories, rather than specific species.
- Alaria – A black or dark green seaweed
- Agar-agar – Seaweed-derived gelatin
- Arame – Dark black and mild in flavor
- Dulse – A cold-water red algae common in Iceland
- Kelp – Large brown seaweeds
- Kombu – A specific class of edible kelp
- Nori – Dried sheets of red algae
- Sea Lettuce – Leafy and dark green
- Wakame – A bit stronger flavor and tougher texture than most
HOW DO I USE SEA VEGETABLES?
With so many varieties of sea vegetables to choose from, there are naturally any number of ways to use them. Here are a few that I’ve used or read about.
- Soup/stew – Add kombu or alaria near the end of cooking to increase the mineral content of the soup. A couple strips chopped is all that’s needed as it grows several times it’s size when hydrated. They do not need to be soaked.
- Salad – Add soaked and chopped wakame (10-15 minutes) to a green salad.
- Stir Fry – Arame works really well to add to your stir fries, especially when cooked up with something brightly colored to contrast its blackness. Carrots, green beans, red peppers…all offer a visually appealing contrast. Soak for about five minutes, then add to your dish.
- Beans – Kombu helps them cook faster and improves digestibility.
- Nori Rolls – Have fun making sushi. It’s so easy! Simply take a sheet of nori, add some cooked rice, cucumber slices, avocado, shredded carrot, or other veggies of your choice, roll up and slice. Serve with some tamari and (a little) wasabi. Yummm…. Some stores also carry nori “crackers” seasoned and ready to eat.
- Dulse – This is a great, “salty” snack right out of the bag.
And of course don’t forget that you can always use the soaking water in your cooking to retain the few minerals that soak out and to add more flavor. In my experience, sea vegetables aren’t going to ruin a dish with their taste, since what I’ve had has all been pretty mild.
Here’s a recipe for a Mock Tuna Salad!
2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1/2 medium-sized white onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
1/4 to 1/2 cup Veganaise
1 dill pickle or equivalent of dill pickle relish
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
roasted seaweed (optional)
Drain both cans of chickpeas and rinse very well. Mash up with a fork or place in a food processor to get them to the consistency of shredded tuna. Place chickpeas in a mixing bowl. Dice the pickle, half of the white onion, the celery, and place in bowl. Mix in Veganaise (amount depends on how creamy you want it), mustard, salt and pepper. I know I said the roasted seaweed is optional, but I would highly recommend putting it in there. It’s what gives it that slightly “fishy” flavor. You can usually find a package of multiple sheets in the Asian section in your grocery. I found mine at Kroger. They are supposed to be used for sushi, so I took an entire sheet (approx. 8″ by 9″) and crumpled it as fine as possible and threw it in the mix. Don’t be scared. It adds the finishing flavor touch. Mix well and scoop on toasted bread with lettuce, tomato, or whatever your heart desires! Also great on crackers!
As you can see, there are quite a few options to get your sea vegetables!
- “Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health”; “Dietary Exposure and Risk Assessment of Mercury from the Korean Total Diet Study”; Y.M. Kwon et al; 2009
- Seaweed provides vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (utsandiego.com)
- Greens From the Sea (theepochtimes.com)
- A new vegetable for your five a day (dothegreenthing.com)
- Nori: What it is and how to use it (tauntongazette.com)
- Seaweed Shake (ideasinfood.com)