Samui Wining & Dining
Green, Slimy and Delicious

More and more of the earth’s population are discovering the nutritional qualities of seaweed

14I’ll bet you like lobster – yes? Delicious, isn’t it. A universal delicacy. And what about crab? It’s much the same sort of thing – moist, succulent and appreciated everywhere. But let’s now consider grasshoppers. How do you feel about a nice plate of juicy fried grasshoppers? Or grilled scorpions, perhaps?

 

Well, why not? They’re all part of the same family after all – they’re arthropods. They’ve all got similarly-external skeletons. And, believe me, they’re all nourishing and delicious. It’s just that we all like to stick to our conventions. We’re used to eating lobster – not so with scorpions (although in many countries, the exact opposite is true).

 

Which neatly brings us on to the idea of seaweed. And unless you live in the regions near to Japan, this won’t appear on your dietary landscape. But, interestingly, in times gone by, it may well have done. Food fashions come and go and it’s only really since World War Two that things have changed so drastically. Before this time, just about every coastal region in Europe (and the rest of the world, too, come to that) cheerfully enjoyed seaweed as a welcome part of their daily diet. In some parts, even today, the harvesting of seaweed is a traditional local industry and a prime source of income for the community. The coast around Swansea, in Wales, is a good example.

 

Most people will have heard of laverbread, even if they’re not too sure quite what it is. Laver is a thin, delicate seaweed that clings to exposed rocks, and looks a bit like shiny black plastic. And it’s still very much a part of the Welsh diet. The laver is collected, then boiled. And it’s the resulting blue-black purée paste that is known as laverbread. It’s usually eaten for breakfast, crispy-fried and wrapped in an oatcake, along with some bacon.

 

All of which sounds very localised and limited – but not so. In China and Korea, seaweed is a part of everyone’s daily diet. In the Caribbean, it’s used to make a spiced milkshake that’s rumoured to have an aphrodisiac effect. Native American tribes cook it in a dozen different ways. And it’s always been popular throughout the South Pacific Islands, right down to Australia and New Zealand. But the world’s leading consumer is most certainly Japan.

 

There’s over 20 types of seaweed eaten in Japan, every day. And you’ll find it (in its different forms) in every supermarket, restaurant, corner shop and street stall. And out of all these types, you may be surprised to recognise the Welsh laverbread. But in Japan, the purée is rolled out into thin sheets and allowed to dry. The resulting delicately delicious wafers are called ‘nori’. It’s ideal as a wrap for meat, chicken or fish – and, of course, sushi.

 

It also might interest you to know that you can buy it all over Thailand – including Samui. Just have a look in any 7-11. There’ll be several different sorts tucked away in with the crisps – thin, green wafers, in packets covered in Thai writing! But you’ll find them all together in one place, and the word ‘seaweed’ will appear somewhere in English, too. And, in Thailand, it’s regarded as a similar sort of nibble to potato chips or cheesy snaps.

 

But, of course, you’ll always find seaweed in a Japanese restaurant (unlike Chinese restaurants, where the crispy fried seaweed is actually deep-fried vegetables!). And checking out the menu in the chic new Japanese restaurant, Wasabi, reveals some mouth-watering examples. How about the hot foie grass roll, for example – pan-fried foie gras and sweet mango, rucola and green peppercorn with rice, all rolled with yaki nori and chopped with hazelnuts. Nori appears on the menu quite a lot. You’ll find Wasabi tucked way up the hill, next to Chaweng Lake. Look out for the signs on the road near to Chaweng Lake View.

 

And if all of this has left you feeling a little uneasy and not yet quite convinced – consider this. In the last 50 years, increased industrialisation and urban advancement has increased dramatically. Pollution and acid rain have leeched nutriments from the land. But these minerals haven’t just disappeared – they’ve run off into the sea. And whereas the soil has become depleted, the mineral content of the world’s oceans has actually increased.

 

Today, the culinary use of seaweed is once again becoming fashionable – and not just because of the increased popularity of Asian food. The new, health-conscious Western world has realised its nutritional value also. Seaweed contains a high percentage of iodine. And substantial amounts of magnesium, calcium and iron – the same minerals that are found in the blood. Plus it has a lot of folic acid, which is rich in vitamin B. It also contains lingans – plant compounds with cancer-inhibiting properties. The iodine is essential for regulating our thyroid functions. And seaweed is extremely useful in helping to control heart disease. The folic acid and magnesium effectively reduce blood pressure and inhibit possible heart attacks.

 

Today, increasingly more attention is being paid to alternative resources: wind and solar energy; hydroponic farming; plus traditional and herbal remedies. There needs to be. We’ve been degrading the health of both our planet and ourselves for far too long, and many of the old traditions are now being viewed in a new light. And when you consider the fact that grasshoppers contain the same percentage of protein as beefsteak, then perhaps in a few years our attitudes to eating will have started to change. After all, the sea is a big place. And there’s lots of seaweed in there, too!

Rob De Wet

 


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