Seaweed: The Ocean’s Superfood (and where to get it)

You’ve been told to eat your vegetables, well now it’s time to eat your weeds. Seaweeds!

A member of the algae family, seaweed (not actually a weed, but a type of sea-vegetable) is classified into three groups: red, green, and brown. The most commonly consumed varieties are nori, hijiki, kombu, wakame, and dulse, though there are hundreds more growing in our oceans.
Fortunately for us, the cold, clean waters off Vancouver Island are an ideal habitat for producing some of the world’s best seaweed. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the coast of British Columbia is home to an estimated 530-macroalgae species, approximately 650,000 tonnes of wild kelp. This versatile and sustainable superfood is one of the most nutritionally dense foods available. Loaded with minerals, vitamins, and iron, its uses go way beyond sushi.
Seaweed’s many benefits have been gaining attention among chefs these days with kelp varieties being utilized in numerous, creative ways. From salads to seasonings, soups to smoothies (and even craft beers), here are a few ways to experience seaweed’s many wonders.

Brew it

Tofino Brewing Company
Over a century ago, farmers were fertilizing their barley fields with seaweed, and now brewers are adding kelp right into their beer! Try their Kelp Stout—a dark, rich, full-bodied ale brewed with locally harvested kelp, giving a unique, umami-type quality to this complex beer.

The Silk Road Tea Co.
Silk Road has the Mermaid’s Potion, a fresh and minty brew with a sophisticated smoky aftertaste.

Eat it

Sooke Harbour House
Numerous dishes are prepared with seaweed. Owner and chef, Sinclair Philip, incorporates over 26 different species into his menu, serving kelp raw, deep-fried, pickled, smoked, and steamed. A house favourite is the fresh halibut wrapped in sugar kelp and the baked oysters wrapped in sea lettuce.

“Seaweed has always been a favourite food in our kitchen,” says Philip. “We believe that seaweeds are one of nature’s wonder foods; the food of the future and we love to cook with it and have since 1979. It is abundant, fresh, and deeply flavourful.”

Back in his scuba diving days, Philip recalls the beauty of the lush, waving kelp forests in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. “It is no wonder that our chefs are attracted and inspired [by seaweed]. Our chefs, of course, take the lead from our First Nations,” says Philip “and chefs from coastal areas across the world. Our First Nations friends make widespread use of seaweed and [many] are still very knowledgeable in the harvesting, drying, and culinary uses of sea vegetables.”

“At Sooke Harbour House, we consider seaweed to be one of the flavourful mainstays of regional, seasonal, and sustainable foods for our area,” says Philip. “Seaweed flavours are salty, intense, and vegetal … our local laminaria, similar to Japanese kombu, is a powerful contributor to umami flavours in the foods it is added to.”

Historically, Sooke Harbour House has served seaweeds in many different ways, says Philip. “We have used it as a salt substitute, as it may help lower blood pressure. It is gluten free, low in calories, and very high in vitamins and minerals. We use dried seaweeds as flavouring in soups, miso, and other broths, in sauces and stews, and use it for kombu when we have made our own dashis. We use it in geoduck, clam, and mussel dishes and include it in seafood salads and occasionally [we] add it as flavouring to bean dishes. For pickling, we often use sea asparagus and bull kelp.”

“We have stuffed hallosaccion with fish and vegetable purees, and made serving vessels for shellfish by coating sea lettuce with maple syrup and baking it in ramekins to form an olive green coloured cup. We have deep fried [seaweed] in tempuras with thicker fleshed sea vegetables, such as rockweed, and wrapped fish and oysters in seaweed then served them with seaweed bread.”

Tofino’s Wolf in the Fog
Nick Nutting, chef and owner, says, “The more you work with seaweed, the more you continue to find different applications for it, utilising its natural saltiness.” The restaurant sources their Kelp from Canadian Kelp Resources focusing on three main types for the menu: bull kelp, macrocystis for the house seaweed salad, and kombu to make “smoky, ocean-y tasting” adashi broths and when cooking octopus, says Nutting.

The seaweed salad, a house favourite, is made from rehydrated seaweeds. “We blanch the seaweed first, and then marinate the ingredients with it. It’s my natural version of something that often has a lot of artificial flavours and dyes,” says Nutting.

When asked what the appeal is in using seaweed, Nutting puts it simply, “It grows right in front of our homes. It’s sustainable, local, healthy, and delicious.”

The Beach House
Diver Scallops are a popular menu item for guests. The dish features miso glazed Digby scallops, wakame seaweed croquettes, and BC beet silk. $25

Spinnakers Brewpub 
Spinnakers uses seaweed in a few of their dishes, such as the West Coast Fish Plate featuring house smoked salmon, albacore tuna ‘tartar’, a bacon-wrapped smoked oyster, kelp crackers, baguette, apple chutney.

Currently featuring a Seasonal Salad comprised of quinoa, edamame, and shiitake with roasted seaweed, avocado, carrot, and sesame seeds on greens in their house tahini dressing.

Spoon it

Chef Heidi Fink’s Hoji Cha Miso Soup
Both a tea and a soup, the use of seaweed adds a rich umami flavour and added nutrients to this dish.

Seaweed Nutrition

As for dark, leafy greens, seaweed is nutrient packed and full iodine (for thyroid), calcium (a bone builder), protein (muscle and brainpower), and fiber (for a healthy body).

Links to local seaweed experts

Diane Bernard and Sinclair Philip harvesting seaweed in Sooke, BC

Diane Bernard and Sinclair Philip harvesting seaweed in Sooke, BC

BC Kelp 
“Seaweeds are high in nutrients and in general contain more minerals than vegetables, meat, milk, or eggs.” BC Kelp is a small family business, which produces a premium quality wild and sustainable sea product. Learn more about kelp and the products the company creates on their website, or check out their wide selection of kelp recipes, available on their website.

Sea Flora, Diane Bernard
A true local expert and a trusted source for Sinclair Philip, Bernard has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to local seaweeds

Written By:

Holly Brooke is a true B.C. gal. Having lived on the west coast most of her life, except for several years in the Kootenay's where she canoed and fished and lived in a tipi, she's very much at home outdoors and in the kitchen. ...

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