Seaweeding Algae & Seaweed Growing

All the Seaweed That You Can Eat! Fussy Eaters Guide to Edible Algae

seaweed that you can eat for fussy eaters

Are you or a loved one new to the seaweed world? If you’re feeling anxious about putting seaweed in your mouth and whether it is safe, then read this article for a fresh perspective on all the seaweed that you can eat and enjoy.

Seaweed, which is a form of algae, has played a vital role in East Asian cuisine for millennia. But, this highly nutritious, low-calorie plant has only just recently become part of Western diets. As a result, very few Westerners are familiar with the many different types of edible seaweed, and how it can be used to improve just about any meal.

For those who are contemplating eating seaweed as part of their diet, but are feeling a bit unsure about it, then here are some interesting Q&A’s about those edible weeds of the sea.

Q: Is All Seaweed Edible?

A: Actually, yes!

But not all of them are very nice to eat. There are well over 3,500 forms of edible seaweed around the world. In fact, all seaweed is considered to be edible, although some species are not very palatable. Many varieties of brown seaweed, for example, contain a form of carbohydrates that simply cannot be digested by the body. Instead, these forms of seaweed are used as seasoning agents, to add flavor to food such as soups. Unlike fungi where there is a broad spectrum of edible and poisonous mushrooms, there isn’t the same risk of encountering poisonous seaweed as far as people are aware.

Q: Can You Eat Too Much Seaweed?

A: Yes, you can eat too much seaweed.

Although many people consider seaweed as a superfood, it must be consumed in moderation due to the potential side effects associated with the excess ingestion of iodine. Although the human body needs iodine for proper thyroid function, the quantities of iodine in every gram of seaweed can easily exceed daily recommended limits. When consumed in excessive amounts, seaweed can interrupt the function of the thyroid gland which can lead to many other serious medical issues.

Q: Is Seaweed A Vegetable?

A: No, it’s not a vegetable.

Seaweed is technically not a vegetable. For cooking purposes, however, seaweed is often used like a vegetable particularly in East Asian, Japanese and Korean cuisine. While the term vegetable has been applied to just about every edible part of a plant, they are nevertheless a product of the plant reproductive system. Seaweed is considered to be a non-flowering aquatic plant. Rather than producing flowers, seaweed reproduces through the release of spores, unlike vegetables which reproduce though flowers and seeds.

Q: Is Seaweed Seafood?

A: No, it’s not seafood.

Although seaweed is an aquatic plant, it cannot be considered seafood. The term seafood generally refers to any type of edible aquatic fauna that lives in the oceans. Naturally, since seaweed is not an animal, it cannot generally be considered a form of seafood. Nevertheless, its ability to absorb iodine from the ocean makes it an excellent source for a chemical that the body cannot produce but is required for the healthy function of the thyroid gland.

Q: What Does Seaweed Taste Like?

A: They’re all different! Some even taste like bacon…

With more than 3,500 different types of edible seaweed available around the world, those who have never consumed seaweed in the past often wonder what it tastes like. Because of the wide variety of different species and habitats, there is likewise a wide variety of different flavors. Common flavors that seaweed are described as include salty-sweet, umami and sea-water. There are some forms of seaweed that taste just like bacon, while others taste like fish, and some don’t taste like anything at all. As a result, seaweed can be used as a substitute for many different forms of food.

7 MOST POPULAR Seaweed That You Can Eat

Considering the vast differences between the more than 3,500 species of edible seaweed around the world, here are some of the most popular forms of seaweed you can eat that are used in cooking worldwide. If you’re planning to eat seaweed, it will most likely be one of the types listed below.

Wakame

  • Color: Green
  • Flavor: Sweet
  • Texture: Silky
  • Cuisine: Japanese; Korean
  • Uses: Miso soup; Seaweed salad

Wakame is a form of green seaweed that is commonly used in the preparation of miso soup as well as seaweed salads. Of all the seaweed that you can eat, this is one of the most popular. Chances are, if you have consumed Japanese or Korean cuisine in the last decade, then you have probably already had small amounts of this sweetly flavored seaweed.

Although popular in Japan and Korea, Wakame is actually native to most coastal areas around the world. It is considered to be one of the most invasive species of plant in the world, features an extremely dark green color, and has a silky texture and a sweet flavor. It can be found in many different grocery stores in a dried-out form that expands when cooked.

Kombu

  • Color: Brown
  • Flavor: Mushroomy; Umami
  • Texture: Rubbery
  • Cuisine: Japanese
  • Uses: Sushi; Soup; Tea

Kombu is a form of brown seaweed (kelp) and another one of the most common types of seaweed that you can eat, used for the preparation of sushi and a wide variety of Japanese soups. It is generally sold in wide square strips that have been pickled in vinegar or even dried. This particular seaweed once dried out can be ground into a powder before being brewed into a popular Japanese tea.

Known for its higher levels of iodine, kombu is also an excellent source of fiber. It is considered one of the main ingredients in just about every type of Japanese soup. When eating sushi, is also commonly used for wrapping the rice at a sushi restaurant.

Nori

  • Color: Red; Green-Black
  • Flavor: Salty-Sweet; Umami
  • Texture: Dried Strips/Sheets; Slightly Chewy; Often Crispy
  • Cuisine: Japanese
  • Uses: Sushi; Soup; Snacks

Although wakame is considered by many to be one of the most versatile forms of seaweed available today, nori is the most recognized in Western society. In fact, nori is the most common seaweed used for wrapping sushi rolls, and as a garnish in Japanese soups.

This red seaweed is first shredded, then pressed into long thin strips before being dried out. Once fully prepared, nori obtains a very dark green, almost black color. There are a wide variety of grades available in supermarkets around the country. The highest-graded nori sheets are often imported from Japan or China and used exclusively for the preparation of food. The lower grade is more commonly used as a snack, similar to that of the potato chip in Western society.

Dulse

  • Color: Red
  • Flavor: Bacon; Salty-Smoky
  • Texture: Powder; Flakes
  • Cuisine: East-Asian
  • Uses: Soup; Seasoning

Perhaps one of the most unique forms of red seaweed in the world is that of dulse. This particular form of seaweed is known to grow in both the north Atlantic as well as Pacific oceans. The plant itself has a high level of trace elements including copper, iron, and zinc, and as such, is a versatile form of seaweed, that can taste similar to bacon when fried.

Once harvested, the dulse is then dried out and sold in local grocery stores as either a powder, flakes, or even in whole-leaf form. In its powdered form, is commonly used as a seasoning for soup stock and other popular East Asian dishes.

Hijiki

  • Color: Brown; Black
  • Flavor: Mushroomy; Earthy; Slightly Sweet
  • Texture: Thin Strands; Chewy
  • Cuisine: Japanese
  • Uses: Appetizers; Seaweed Salad; Beauty Products

For centuries, hijiki has played a vital role in Japanese cuisine. This brown seaweed can be found along the coastlines throughout East Asia, and generally turns a subtle black after being boiled or dried. For most Westerners, this particular form of seaweed is most recognizable in the appetizers section of any local sushi restaurant.

After harvesting, hijiki is generally dried out and prepared in long thin strands. From there, connoisseurs will reconstitute it by boiling it in water and mixing it with soy sauce and sugar. It is known to be an excellent source of dietary fibers and a wide assortment of minerals including calcium, iron, and magnesium. It is also used in a large number of beauty aid products sold throughout Japan.

Irish Moss

  • Color: Red; White
  • Flavor: Flavorless
  • Texture: Gelatinous
  • Cuisine: European; Global
  • Uses: Jellies; Stabilizer in processed foods

Despite its name, Irish moss is not moss at all. It is a very popular form of seaweed that is consumed throughout Europe this form of red seaweed generally turns white once it washes to the shore. It gets its name from its tree-like appearance when viewed in its natural habitat underwater.

Throughout Ireland and Scotland, it is commonly used as a stabilizer in milk products including ice cream and other processed foods, also known as carrageenan. When used to stabilize or thicken milk-based products, it is generally boiled and then strained out before any other flavorings are added. Because of its gelatin-like appearance, it is also used in manufacturing jellies and tapioca pudding.

Irish moss is also known as sea moss, and can be grown at home although the wildcraft form is more popular. Irish moss is known to have an abundance of minerals, antioxidants, nutrients, and vitamins. At the top of the list, are the antioxidants that are used to help the body fight off free radicals which help to alleviate common respiratory conditions including pneumonia and bronchitis.

Spirulina

  • Color: Blue-Green
  • Flavor: Sea Water
  • Texture: Soft/Squishy when Fresh; Powder; Tablets
  • Cuisine: Global
  • Uses: Smoothies; Health Supplements

Although not technically a seaweed that you can eat, spirulina has quickly grown in popularity over the past decade. This cyanobacterium is also known as pond scum (mmm… yum) and has a bluish-green tint to it. The unicellular organism has been around for more than 3.5 billion years and is considered to be the most important group of bacteria on the planet.

In fact, not only do they play a vital role in providing nitrogen to the soil for the cultivation of beans and rice, but they are also known for producing more than 50% of the world’s oxygen. The atmosphere that we breathe today, would not have been possible if it weren’t for spirulina blooms during the Archean Era.

Perhaps the most important contribution to life is the symbiotic relationship that spirulina has with plants. Known simply as endosymbiosis, cyanobacteria were absorbed into the eukaryote cells of plants allowing them to conduct photosynthesis. Simply put, the spirulina cells produce food for the plants in exchange for a safe home.

Today, people all over the world are growing their own colonies of spirulina for the purpose of human consumption. Because of the organism’s ability to rapidly multiply, a small colony the size of a 20-gallon fish tank can provide enough cyanobacteria for a family of 4. After only a few months, the bacteria can be harvested on a daily basis in order to be dried out and provide a high level of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for the entire family.

Final Thoughts on Seaweed That You Can Eat

Well, that wraps up our fussy eaters guide to all the seaweed you can eat, that is commonly available in shops and restaurants. We hope this guide has inspired you to try out some seaweed and algae for yourself.

We understand why you might feel reluctant to eat seaweed, especially for Westerners where it is not something that we’ve grown up with. We commonly think of seaweed as the stuff you see washed up on the beach, and algae as that gross green stuff you get if you haven’t cleaned your swimming pool or fish tank for a few months.

However, the world of seaweed and algae is much broader than that, with thousands of forms, many of which add some quite interesting flavors to food that you might not have experienced before.

If you are unsure where to start with eating seaweed, we suggest you find a good quality Japanese or Korean café, and order a dish with seaweed in it. That way you know you are enjoying it cooked the proper way, by professional cooks who know how to handle seaweed. Sushi which is wrapped in seaweed, is a great starting point. Or grab a bowl of soup that has seaweed strips combined with more familiar ingredients, such as miso. Maybe avoid the seaweed salad until you get a taste for it, as it might be too much seaweed in one go for you! Dried seaweed snacks from the grocery store are also a fun, tasty way to try out seaweed for the first time.

When you’re ready to expand, check out our Top 40 list of edible seaweeds, to learn about other algae you can try out.

Happy seaweeding!