For those of you out there who are fans of sushi, or Asian cuisines in general, you are no strangers to seaweed, usually referred to as nori. Although commonly presented in Japanese dishes as standard or hand sushi rolls, it does play many other roles, showing up in everything from soups to snacks. Being an enormous seaweed fan myself, I recently noticed a couple of products on the market and decided to look at what was available and just how good seaweed actually is from a nutritional standpoint.
I honestly didn’t know that much about seaweed until recently, I just knew that I loved it in practically any way it was presented to me. Never had seaweed before? Feeling a little leery about it? Just keep in mind that if you love spinach, you’ll love seaweed. Probably looks a little weird, but just trust me on this one. The next time you are in a Japanese restaurant, get that seaweed salad on the appetizer menu, get the miso soup; you won’t be sorry. I was pretty interested to learn that, although the greatest variety of ways in which seaweed is consumed is in Asia, it has actually been eaten and used by virtually every other coastal culture around the world. The Welsh use a refined form of seaweed as an ingredient in a popular bread, and in Belize they mix it with milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and other ingredients to produce a sweet beverage. And while it does have several medical and industrial uses, by and large it is farmed (or harvested wild) for eating. In 2011 Indonesia moved into the top spot as the world’s largest producer of seaweed, coming in at around ten tonnes (that’s a whole, whole lot). And while most of the general public probably thinks of it as a Japanese staple, it seems as though Korea really has the market cornered on seaweed consumption.
The products I mentioned before recently caught my eye in the supermarket and I wanted to try them as A) I love seaweed and B) anytime I can find something to snack on that is potentially good for me, I’m all over it. There were a few brands available, but I went with GimMe Organic Roasted Seaweed Snacks and Annie Chun’s Roasted Seaweed Snacks. I usually attempt to pick a variety of brands, but apparently the joke was on me because both of these brands have the same parent company, or perhaps I should simply say “parent.” Annie Chun, a native of Korea, and her husband Steve Broad began their company in 1992 with the aim of taking the mystery out of most Asian dishes for Western cooks. She wanted the home cook to be able to expand their repertoire beyond ramen noodles and take-out sweet and sour chicken, for which I certainly praise her. Then in 2005, they partnered up with CJ Corp, Korea’s largest food manufacturer. And awhile back Annie and Steve sat down and decided to do it all over again with GimMe Organics, a line of snack foods that are seaweed-based and seem to be a little more focused toward introducing children to healthy snacking. There is plenty of product information and kid-friendly FAQs on their website www.gimmehealth.com. GimMe offers three product lines: the sheets, which I sampled, and are sold as comparable to chips or crackers, the Wrap N’ Roll full-size nori sheets, great for making your own sushi rolls at home, and their Seaweed Crumbles, toasted and shredded seaweed that is great for putting over salads or into soups. The crumbles offer the greatest variety of flavors, such as Sesame, Teriyaki, Honey Dijon(?) and Cheddar Cheese. The other nori sheets are available in Sesame and Sea Salt flavors, of which I chose the Sea Salt. The Original Annie Chun’s brand offered four flavors, including Brown Sugar and Sea Salt, Cracked Pepper and Herb, Sesame and Wasabi (my flavor of choice – can I get some love from all of my wasabi freaks out there? You know who you are!) As for products, there is definitely no lack of variety for anyone wanting to make quality Asian meals at home. On their site www.anniechun.com you can view all of the flavors of their lines of noodles, rice dishes, soups, sauces and even appetizers like potstickers and wontons. There is nutritional information about each product (my Wasabi sheets only contain five main ingredients – yay!) and an entire page dedicated to recipes you can make with Annie’s products. If you’re wanting Asian tonight, look no further.
So as far as a verdict on taste is concerned, I have to say that the wasabi flavor takes the cake. It’s not an overwhelming heat like some products with that profile can have; it just lends a nice little kick to something that already tastes great. The Sea Salt ones from GimMe were also good, but I think may be a little better suited as a flavor addition to soups or maybe crumbled over rice or salad. Some folks may find the texture a little unsettling at first. I have been told that it is an experience similar to, “eating paper. Tasty paper, but paper.” And yes it is thin, light and papery in its construction. Let’s say, not as substantial as kale chips, but just as delicious. And if you are a hardcore seaweed lover like myself, you could eat on these for a considerable amount of time because they do fill you up, but they don’t weigh you down. There are probably around fifteen sheets in each package, and both were in the $1.50 per package range. Pretty affordable as far as healthy food goes if you ask me. And both of these products are widely available in most large supermarket and organic food store chains.
And now, more good news! This stuff is exceptionally good for you. Like, more than what I’ve already mentioned. Seaweed is actually a multicellular marine algae (just a little random trivia for you folks) that grows virtually anywhere there is a rocky shoreline. It really only requires three things to flourish: salt water, adequate sunlight and a solid foundation on which to attach itself – hence the rocky shoreline. It is usually one of three colors; red, green or brown and is not only a favorite food of people, but also marine creatures, including the Green Sea Turtle, the official unofficial mascot of GimMe Organics. And while it’s growing under the sea, it is developing loads and loads of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that make your body happy. Seaweed is very rich in dietary fiber, key in helping to regulate healthy cholesterol levels. One serving of seaweed also gives you the RDA of iodine, which promotes thyroid health. And for those of you unfamiliar with the thyroid, believe me, you want a healthy one. It contains more calcium than broccoli and more protein than most legumes (beans). One sheet of nori has as many Omega 3s as two avocados, which not only helps with cholesterol but also reduces inflammation in the body. And taken as a nutritive whole, seaweed contains the highest density of vitamins and minerals of any plant on Earth. And you know it’s good if both Dr. Oz and Oprah are talking about it. I mean, it’s Oprah, right?
So if you love nori, go out and grab some of these snacks pronto. And if you’ve never had nori but are curious about it – go out and grab some of these snacks pronto. You will not be sorry.
As a side note, I just wanted to let everyone know (especially my international readers) that I will be taking a little break from the blog next week for the Thanksgiving holiday to spend time with my family. I hope all of you will be too, and let’s try to be grateful for the things we have and not be so worried about the things we don’t have. Because gratitude is better than attitude! Well, most of the time…Happy Thanksgiving everyone!