Seaweed & how to eat it at Bigelow Lab workshops

[USA] If you like seaweed salad, you may not have to go far to find it – on your own. You probably haven’t looked hungrily at the seaweeds flopping around on the rocks along our coast, but you would be surprised at how many you can eat.

One summer day last year, my girls and I had a foraging day where we picked mussels and oysters off the rocks, dug clams, and gathered sea lettuce and saltwort. We were amazed at how much we were able to collect just from our little rocky beach. And, I didn’t realize how much more there was to collect until doing a little research.

So, how do you know what to collect and what to do with it? You could start with a handy guide that Sea Grant put together with simple pictures and descriptions of the top Gulf of Maine seaweeds, including a little bit of history, too. At the bottom of each card is a list of ideas of what to make with these salty morsels – everything from broth from bladderwrack to cooking up sweet sea pudding from Irish moss.

You can get a copy of this guide by contacting Maine Sea Grant (seagrant.umaine.edu). These are all wild seaweeds that are found in different places in the rocky intertidal along the coast. Some are long and green or brown, others are bushy and red­—there is quite a variety.

Bladderwrack makes an excellent broth. Photo by Susan Olcott

These seaweeds are also being grown through aquaculture along the coast, as people have discovered myriad uses and value. For example, one business based in Portland, Ocean Approved, grows sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima) and has been successful at marketing products like kelp noodles, kelp cubes, and kelp slaw. The noodles are delicious when cooked in a ginger broth; the cubes make great additions to smoothies; and the slaw can be mixed into salads in any number of ways.

There are an impressive number of recipes on Ocean Approved’s website (www.oceanapproved.com), including kelp carrot cake (one I have yet to try). They’ve partnered with restaurants to offer healthy options, as well as with Mercy Hospital, which now serves salads made with kelp slaw in its cafeteria.

Others have been trying their hand at aquaculture, as well – some on a business scale and some more personal, simply by hanging a long line off a mooring and growing a “kelp line” through the season. You can learn more about how to do this through Sea Grant or Ocean Approved. It doesn’t take long either – the kelp “seed” is planted in the fall and ready to harvest by early spring.

Another company based Downeast in Hancock, Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, also makes kelp products like “Kelp Krunch,” and other products from dulse, sea lettuce, bladderwrack and rockweed. The company produces blends like “Sea Seasonings” and “Seaweed Support,” a nutritional supplement.

And, Maine Sea Farms, based near Newcastle on the Damariscotta River, also grows sugar kelp, dulse and alaria (winged kelp). These are just a few of the companies trying their hands at this.

Seaweed aquaculture is a neat business because it’s healthy both for the products it provides, as well as the environment in which it grows. All it takes is sunlight and clear water to grow. And, in the process, it trades out nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon dioxide for oxygen, cleaning and enriching coastal waters for other plants and animals.

When it comes to its value as a food, kelp is highly nutritious. It is a source of calcium, magnesium, and potassium, all of which help to support healthy muscles and bones. The iodine in kelp helps to keep hormones in balance, regulate metabolism and promote cardiovascular health. It is also low in calories, carbohydrates and fat and offers a gluten-free alternative to pasta.

If all of this has piqued your interest, but you want a bit more instruction, you can sign up for a series of classes being offered by Bigelow Lab in Boothbay Harbor as a part of its Café Sci. To celebrate the idea of sea vegetables being a type of gardening, the classes will be held at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

Over the weekend of Oct. 13-14, you can attend the two-part course entitled, “The Ocean Garden: From Shore to Table.” The first evening class, held from 5 to 6 p.m., features four panelists (three of whom represent the aquaculture businesses I described above) who will share their expertise from ecology, to aquaculture, to culinary creation.

The second session, held on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. will be held at the Bigelow Lab. You will learn to identify sea vegetables in the classroom and then go foraging at Ocean Point to collect your own harvest. A demonstration over lunch will show you how to prepare these seaweeds and, of course, includes tasting of the creations.

Take advantage of the lovely fall days to explore the seashore with a different eye for these wild foraged foods and enjoy learning more about them, as well as ways to enjoy eating them!

 

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