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Health & Nutrition

Seaweed foraging — the new gourmet sport

January 20, 2017

Dictyoneurum californicum can be used to make the basis of dashi soup stock. Photo: Joy Lanzendorfer for NPR

J dropcapoy Lanzendorfer reports for NPR that, as seaweed continues to gain popularity for its nutritional benefits and culinary versatility, more people are taking up seaweed foraging to eat it fresh, as well as sell it to restaurants in up scale places like Napa and San Francisco.

Heidi Herrmann, owner of Strong Arm Farm in Healdsburg, CA, notes that, “With the rise of those little flavored snack packs of seaweed that kids eat in their lunches, seaweed is now a normal household word.”

Ms. Herrmann commercially forages seaweed. She also leads seaweed foraging classes several times a year. The only equipment her students need is a pair of scissors and a bag to carry the seaweed.

It’s one of many foraging classes offered along the West Coast. They can cost anywhere between $90-$445, and can last for several hours or several days. Some include cooking lessons. Others teach how to harvest seaweed from a kayak.

People have been harvesting seaweed for thousands of years, but now it’s become so popular, you can even take a class. Photo: Joy Lanzendorfer for NPR

The beach is full of edible seaweed. Many West Coast varieties are similar to well-known Asian seaweeds. This includes versions of nori, which the Japanese use in sushi; kombu, the base for the broth dashi; and wakame, commonly used in seaweed salad.

There are also lesser-known varieties, like sea lettuce, a delicate green seaweed also used in salads. Then there’s bladderwrack, which looks like flattened deer antlers and can season meat or thicken sauces. Another is dulse, which looks like red film tape and is commonly dried and flaked into dishes for seasoning.

Seaweeds are algae, not plants. They’re divided into three types: red, green and brown. (Kelp is a type of seaweed.) Like plants, seaweed uses photosynthesis to convert sunlight into energy. While they can be harvested all year, they’re usually at the height of growth in spring and summer. They often grow rapidly, as much as two feet a day.

Because of this, most seaweed can withstand ethical foraging. The important thing is to only take the leaf-like blades and leave the hold-fast — essentially, the roots of the seaweed — intact so it can keep producing.

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