Seaweed as a food source in this country is largely unseen. Short of the ubiquitous nori-wrapped sushi roll, the visibility of seaweed is minimal. It is most commonly used as a stabiliser or as a plant-based setting agent – a vegan alternative to gelatine. It is also used in commercial breads to retain moisture. But among its myriad culinary applications, it is also a great source of nutrition.
Seaweed thrives in healthy oceans and plays a vital role providing refuge. It’s also a food source for sea creatures and a pollutant filter, and is integral for many species’ reproduction, providing a home for spores and eggs. Recent advances in kelp aquaculture systems have aided our natural environment – from cattle feed that reduce methane outputs to carbon drawdown in huge aquaponics ponds, both on land and in the ocean.
Australia has history over millennia of using seaweed as food. Bull kelp root was used prolifically in the southern regions, where it still grows strongly, excepting recent warm water currents that caused a mass dieback. Although all seaweeds are technically edible, there are several varieties that lend themselves directly to consumption in salads, such as wakame, sea lettuce, dulse and kombu.
Wakame is probably our most used seaweed in salads, usually sprinkled with sesame seeds. But you may notice the nuclear-like green glow that emanates from many store-bought varieties. This is achieved by using food dye and other preservatives to stop the seaweed from denaturing, which it will do over the course of a week or so. To avoid this, I like to make my own seaweed salads. I buy dried seaweeds from reputable farms and reconstitute them in small quantities. In this recipe I used alaria from a farm in Maine in the United States, but there are great sources domestically and in New Zealand.