You may not know it, but you probably eat a lot of seaweed. It's found in puddings, in many commercial yogurts and ice creams, and in steak sauce and salad dressings. According to McDonald's, seaweed is the secret ingredient in the Lean Deluxe, the low-fat new hamburger they've been testing.
But some people actually eat seaweed that looks like seaweed.
Health food store shelves are brimming with products made from seaweed. From laver (the dried purple sheets used for wrapping sushi) to dried and pulverized kelp (packed in reclosable bags and shakers for use like a spice), seaweed is all over the place.
But is the interest in seaweed just another food fad brought on by an illogical desire for superhealth? Can seaweed restore youth and revitalize the soul? Does it give relief from headaches and heart disease?
The answer: probably not.
Seaweed does have significant amounts of some vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin A and a few B vitamins. Like all seafood, it contains iodine, which protects against the throat-swelling disease goiter. It also has a fair amount of protein and chlorophyll.
Dried seaweed (kombu), which is used in the Japanese sauce dashi, is rich in Vitamin C and iodine. One ounce of raw kelp contains 12 calories, less than a gram of fat, 48 milligrams of calcium, 66 milligrams of sodium, 25 milligrams of potassium and 51 micrograms of folate. One ounce of dried spirulina has 82 calories, 2 grams fat, 34 milligrams calcium, 297 milligrams sodium and 386 milligrams of potassium. Nori, which becomes the dried purple sheets used for wrapping sushi, is rich in Vitamins A, D and B12.
The real virtue of seaweed is its flavor, as demonstrated by Marinated Seaweed Salad from the Mandarin Deli in Los Angeles.
Though sea "bells" were never expected to become a favorite of American diners at the restaurant, they did just that, boasts Chef Philip Lin. "Nobody complains about the seaweed, but it does have a very strong taste," Lin says. He does recommend thorough rinsing of the dried black seaweed to tame the odor. He also suggests using less garlic if a milder flavor is preferred.
MANDARIN DELI MARINATED SEAWEED SALAD
1 (4-piece) package bell-shaped dried seaweed
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 small pickled, shredded cucumber
Soften seaweed in boiling water to cover 30 minutes. Drain, then rinse thoroughly, rubbing off any algae that may be on the surface. Rinse again until no longer slippery.
Chop into strips, then rinse again. Soak 1 to 2 days to reduce strong odor, keeping covered with water and changing daily. Rinse and drain.
Combine seaweed, garlic, salt, sugar, vinegar and oil in bowl and toss gently until seaweed is thoroughly coated with dressing. Let stand overnight. Garnish with cilantro and cucumber. Makes 2 servings.