Xa Milne tells us why we need seaweed on our plate
According to Xa Milne, author of The Seaweed Cookbook (Penguin, Michael Jospeh, £16.99), seaweed is a soul food that makes us feel good and is connected with phases of the moon, the seasons, and tides. Here she gives us three reasons to incorporate seaweed into our diet.
The first and most important reason to eat seaweed is that it tastes good. Flavours range from salty to sweet and nutty to herby with a fair amount of smokiness. These flavours are given an added punch by glutamates (natural MSG) which trigger a taste receptor in the stomach, preparing it for receiving protein and nourishment.
Kombu, sometimes referred to as the ‘king of seaweed’, has more natural MSG than any other raw organic food. The Japanese chemist who first isolated MSG in Kombu and came up with the word umami - meaning savory taste - went on to develop the concept of the fifth taste. The other four tastes are sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness. Umami is associated with comfort and many chefs believe that its presence gives food balance and depth of flavour.
Fresh seaweed picked seasonally can be chopped into salads, pickled, marinated or made into dips. Dried flaked seaweeds such as dulse and kombu go well with meat and fish. You can mix dulse with land herbs like rosemary and thyme to season red meat and kombu adds flavour to chicken and pork. Seaweed has about 10 percent of the sodium of cooking salt so it enhances flavour in food without negative side-effects.
Seaweed contains a wide range of minerals including iodine, calcium, potassium, zinc, iron, chromium and vitamins A, B, C and E. Rich in anti-oxidants, seaweed is good for boosting the immune system and helping to fight infection. Seaweed is a very alkalizing food which goes some way to countering the acid found in the meat, sugar and dairy.
Seaweed is a great food for vegetarians to eat as it contains high levels of protein, calcium, iron and iodine. Seaweed also supports the female hormone system as it strengthens the heart, metabolism and digestion. In Korea, seaweed is recommended for pregnant women and in the first three months after childbirth they are given it up to three times a day to aid strength and rejuvenation.
Kombu and the other brown seaweeds are also rich in iodine which is a key mineral in helping the body to ward off cancer and maintain a healthy metabolism.
Seaweed is in plentiful supply around the UK thanks to its 11,000 kilometres of coastline. Harvesting it supports small coastal communities in the UK by providing employment and a way of life. As a natural food that is globally available and has been on the planet longer than man, it gives people worldwide a means to feed themselves.
Feeling inspired? Check out our favourite recipes from The Seaweed Cookbook here.
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