Do you eat sushi rolls? If so, sea vegetables aren’t foreign to you! In fact, nori sheets are probably the most common sea plant-based food in the United States. There are so many unique, delicious, and healthy sea vegetables you can enjoy.
What Are Sea Vegetables?
Sea vegetables are wild plants that grow in water, including the Pacific, Atlantic, and other ocean waters. Sea vegetables are seaweeds, but they’ve been re-termed into the more appetite-friendly term “sea vegetables.” Whichever way you want to refer to them is fine—but we enthusiastically recommend you start adding these nutrient superstars to your diet.
For generations, sea vegetables have been promoted as a valuable food source that can balance thyroid function, boost mineral stores, reduce cholesterol, and prevent aging. Many of these benefits are linked to the high levels of trace minerals in sea vegetables. Sea vegetables have a very deep root system, sometimes over 100 feet in length. The deep roots allow sea vegetables to absorb high-quality vitamins and minerals from beneath the seafloor.
On land, years of over farming and a lack of proper crop rotation practices has led to many areas where soils have been depleted of essential micronutrients. That’s why sea vegetables are thought to be one of the healthiest food groups on the planet.
Sea vegetables are a central part of Asian cuisine, making appearances in Japanese, Chinese, and Thai recipes. As you will see below, there are several varieties of sea veggies from different parts of the globe, and each has unique flavors and textures just waiting to be embraced.
11 Types of Sea Vegetables
The health benefits of sea vegetables stem from their ability to tap into the bountiful stores of minerals below the seafloor. Wild seaweeds are known for their high levels of iron, protein, iodine, chlorophyll, antioxidants, vitamins, polysaccharides, and omega-3 fatty acids. Let’s take a look at 11 varieties of sea vegetables that are the easiest to find in the United States.
Arame is sweet brown algae with a mild flavor. It is available dried and often offered in fine shreds that are crispy and light. Arame is a good source of iodine, potassium, calcium, vitamin A, and dietary fiber. Before using, rinse thoroughly and soak in warm water until the fine shreds are soft. You can toss them into stir-fries, sprinkle over a salad, or top your favorite pasta dish to add flavor, texture, and vital minerals.
Nori is sheets of seaweed made from red algae. Here in the U.S. it is most often used to wrap sushi, but nori is versatile and can be used to add texture and flavor to casseroles, soups, and grain dishes. Nori sheets are lightly toasted before packaging. If the nori sheets you’ve purchased are less than crisp, quickly re-toast them by holding the sheets with tongs and waving them over a burner a few times to revive the toasty texture.
Kombu is a popular addition to miso soup and other Japanese dishes. Kombu, also known as dried kelp, is a dark purple or green sea vegetable available in thick strips or sheets. You can create a mineral-rich broth with kombu by simmering it in water over medium-low heat. Be warned—kombu more than doubles in volume and it soaks up a ton of water, so start small with a piece the size of a postage stamp and experiment from there. Many people believe that kombu makes beans more digestible and less gassy, so the next time you make a pot of beans, add a small piece of kombu and see if it works for you.
4. Sea Palm
Sea palm looks just like a miniature palm tree that has weathered a storm. Sea palm is also called American Arame, and it grows up and down America’s Pacific Coast on tidal rock beds. Sea palm has a delicious sweet and salty taste that is complemented by heat from chiles or ginger. The “fronds” are carefully picked from the stalk to preserve the natural reproductive cycle of this sea veggie. Sea palm can be enjoyed in salads, sautés, and stir-fries. And you can even crisp it up and add to your favorite trail mix!
Wakame is the tenderest of all the sea vegetables on this list. Also called Alaria marginata, it is related to kombu but has a very different texture. It is almost silky enough to melt in your mouth. Wakame is available dried, and it does require a 10-minute soak in warm water before using. Wakame will grow up to 7 times its original size, so be sure to give it plenty of room to soak. Add it to your favorite stir-fry recipe or roast it in the oven to crisp it up and then toss it on a salad for a bit of a crunch.
Hijiki is a black or deep brown sea vegetable native to the rocky coasts of China, Korea, and Japan. Hijiki seaweed is controversial in Canada and the U.S. because of its arsenic concentration. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recommends that consumers avoid eating hijiki seaweed. However, it is still available in the United States. Many people love it because it has the mildest flavor of all seaweeds on this list, almost reminiscent of an earthy mushroom.
Several types of dulse are available, but here in the U.S. the easiest to get your hands on is the North Atlantic dulse. Dulse is a reddish brown sea vegetable that is loaded with potassium and protein! It has a delightfully chewy texture and is a touch salty. It is available in whole leaves, flakes, or powdered.
8. Agar Agar
If you are vegan or vegetarian, you likely have agar-agar in your pantry, as it is a great vegetarian alternative to gelatin. Agar agar is made from Red Sea algae and in Japan it is referred to as Kanten. It is clear and virtually tasteless, making it perfect for both sweet and savory dishes. The small opaque flakes dissolve in hot liquids and congeal when cooled to room temperature. Agar agar thickens jellies, puddings, and pies!
9. Laminaria Japonica
Laminaria japonica is known for getting rid of heavy metals in the body, and research shows it may help prevent obesity and diabetes. A study published in the journal Advances in Food and Nutrition Research examined the protective effects this sea veggie demonstrated in animal trials. The researchers from the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology found that Laminaria japonica inhibits the absorption of triglycerides in mice fed a high-fat diet. Laminaria japonica may be difficult to find in your neighborhood grocery store, but it is readily available online in powdered form.
10. Sea Lettuce
Do salads bore you? If so, you should try adding a bit of sea lettuce to your next salad! Under water it looks similar to delicate leaf lettuce. Sea lettuce is a green alga rich in B vitamins, vitamin A, and iodine. It is crucial to purchase sea lettuce from reliable sources, as it can thrive in areas of sewage outlets and in mudflats that may affect its safety and taste.
Bladderwrack is also known as fucus. It is used in alternative health practices to balance metabolism and support healthy thyroid function. Bladderwrack grows on rocks much closer to the shore than many of the sea vegetables on this list. It is available dried and can easily be added to soups and stews. It also makes a satisfying savory tea.
10 Inventive Sea Veggie Recipes
Are you ready to try sea vegetables? Here are our favorite recipes that incorporate mineral-rich seaweeds into tasty recipes.
If you are new to sea veggies, this recipe from The World’s Healthiest Foods is an excellent first try. In addition to arame, cucumber, tomato, and scallion make this seaweed salad echo American flavors. Don’t skimp on the dressing because it’s sweet, savory, and herbaceous!
When you are craving a luscious chocolate dessert, you must try this Vegan Mocha Pie from Whole Foods Market. It’s an inspired combination of silken tofu, almond milk, espresso, cacao powder, and maple syrup thickened with agar agar.
Are you living gluten-free? This creative recipe from Clean Eating brilliantly uses wakame in a cashew-based pesto sauce. Once the wakame pesto comes together, the sauce is tossed with raw zucchini, and then more cashews are sprinkled on top. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds and can be ready in less than 45 minutes.
Sea veggies partner well with grains, including quinoa and millet. In this recipe from Vanille Verte, arame, a ton of herbs, lemon juice, olive oil, and pine nuts come together to create an incredibly satisfying and nutritious side dish. As a bonus? Save your leftovers and enjoy this recipe cold as a quick lunch.
Wakame, English cucumber, and sesame seeds are the base of this beautiful salad. The dressing is a delicious balance of salty sweetness that comes from the artful combination of maple syrup, tamari sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar. Serve this seaweed salad alongside your favorite main course and wake up your taste buds.
Great stir-fries call for fish sauce to add a rich umami flavor. Vegans—celebrate now—this gluten-free and vegan fish sauce captures the essence of a perfect fish sauce, without the fish! The key here is two-fold: this recipe uses both kombu and shitake mushrooms to create a rich flavor suitable for a variety of recipes.
We admit it—we love gummy snacks. And now, thanks to agar agar, fresh fruit juice, and a touch of honey, you can enjoy healthy homemade gummy snacks any time. Splurge on some cute gummy molds and get to work! If you use a sweet juice like cherry or pomegranate, taste before adding the honey—you may not need to add a sweetener.
Pickled vegetables are a perfect addition to any salad, or as a quick and healthy snack. Saveur has created a delicious twist on traditional pickled vegetables and upped the nutrient value by adding Ichiban dashi to the recipe. The secret here is to use garden-fresh carrots, radishes, and cucumbers.
Have you ever tried kelp noodles? If not, this recipe from Food and Wine Magazine is a perfect starter recipe. Kelp noodles are thin and tender, similar to a rice noodle, and they stand up beautifully to toasty flavors and crunchy vegetables. Don’t leave out the fresh ginger. It gives this recipe a flavorful kick.
We saved the best for last. This vegan sushi recipe from Olives for Dinner is truly inspired. It looks like sushi, it eats like sushi, and it tastes like sushi. The bright orange filling is actually carrot lox that is similar in texture and taste to cured salmon. The lox is combined with mayo, avocado, sriracha, and sushi rice, and then everything is rolled in toasted nori sheets. Trust us, this is one of the best vegan recipes around!