Kelp is the new kale in cooking and health food, says food columnist

Seaweed is nothing new to sushi lovers, but the ocean plants are now used in all sorts of new culinary ways.

Ocean plants are chock full of nutrients, says Gail Johnson

Chef Dafne Romero is using the sea plants in her cooking creations, making seaweed lasagna noodles out of dehydrated blades of giant kelp. (Dafne Romero/Facebook)

Seaweed is nothing new to sushi lovers, but the ocean plants are now used in all sorts of new culinary ways.

The CBC's food columnist Gail Johnson says seaweed is an ingredient used in dishes ranging from brownies to lasagna.

Many cultures — from Hawaii to Ireland — have a long history of cooking with sea greens. Coastal Indigenous communities traditionally used algae in their cooking as well.

"And while most North Americans have overlooked these marine plants as something to cook with, that's changing," Johnson told On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko,

"Sea greens... as versatile, exciting ingredients, [are] a food trend that's only going to continue to grow,"  she said, describing kelp as the new kale.

Johnson suggested (Sea)weed Brownies, a sweet, salty, treat that contains kelp. They're the creation of chef and cookbook author Ned Bell.

Chocolate lovers can find them at the Vancouver Aquarium, or use the recipe found in his cookbook, Lure: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the West Coast.

Superfood from the sea

Johnson said edible algae are loaded with micronutrients and fall into the superfood category. Their stand-out feature is the 'umami' flavour.

"It can be hard to describe, but it's a pleasant, savoury, rich, almost meaty flavour. With that umami, kelp and other seaweeds act as flavour enhancers," she said.

Wakame flakes, kelp powder, and seaweed lasagna noodles are some of the ways chef Dafne Romero is using the sea plants. Romero created North Pacific Kelp Wild Foods in Haida Gwaii after seeking the approval and blessings of Indigenous chiefs in the area to harvest kelp by hand.

She's come up with a recipe for seaweed lasagna with "noodles" made from dehydrated blades of giant kelp, Johnson explained.

"It's not only a great option for people who are averse to carbs or gluten, but again, with that umami flavour, the seaweed makes for an excellent adaptation of the dish."

Shoppers can find Romero's products at the Nat Bailey and Hastings Park winter farmers' markets, and at Dalina on Main Street.

Romero, a Mexico City native, splits her time between her home country and Haida Gwaii, where she harvests seaweed and kelp by hand with permission from the Indigenous communities in the area. (Dafne Romero/Facebook)

Unusual seafood

If you'd rather have someone else do the cooking, Johnson said the Unsung Heroes Festival at Blue Water Café and Raw Bar is an annual event that celebrates lesser known seafood, with all sorts of intriguing dishes by chef Frank Pabst.

An array of sea creatures, including sea snails, red sea cucumber, periwinkles, jellyfish, and invasive crayfish are all a part of Pabst's creations.

Johnson said the dishes are meant to be shared and can be enjoyed during the festival at the Blue Water Cafe until Feb. 27.

To hear the full interview with Gail Johnson listen to media below:

Seaweed is nothing new to sushi lovers, but the ocean plants are being used in all sorts of new culinary ways. 7:15

With files from On The Coast, Gail Johnson