Championed by foragers and chefs, seaweed is the South West superfood that’s having a major moment. Catherine Jones checks out the vegetable du jour
When Jamie Oliver revealed that his two stone weight loss this summer was due in part to sleep and seaweed – he called it a “dynamite” vegetable – everyone started to sit up and take notice of this seashore plant. Surrounded by our fabulous coastline, the South West is perfectly placed to lead a cooking revival of this plentiful, yet incredibly nutrient rich, seashore flora.
They may take some getting used to, but with dedicated folks like Caroline Warwick-Evans and Tim van Berkel of The Cornish Seaweed Company encouraging us to start eating and cooking with local seaweeds, and celeb chefs like Nathan Outlaw serving them in their restaurants, it’s never been easier to take the plunge and experiment.
Caroline Warwick-Evans, a renewable energy expert, and Tim van Berkel a conservationist, had both worked around the world in various roles before deciding to set up The Cornish Seaweed Company. Because of their passion for the environment, they provide sustainably harvested, local seaweeds. ‘Most seaweed for sale in the UK has travelled thousands of kilometres to reach your local supermarket, often all the way from China,’ says Tim. ‘Seaweed has the highest number of vitamins, minerals and trace elements of any food group,’ he continues. Pick up Cornish Seaweed’s dried seaweed across the South West and online.
Seaweed need to know
- Adding a strip of kelp to soups and stews breaks down the enzymes in pulses faster.
- Due to its high iodine content, raw kelp should be eaten sparingly, as it can cause heart palpitations.
- Giant kelp can grow as tall as Big Ben.
- Sea spaghetti contains the highest sodium of all seaweed, and as a pasta replacer it’s best combined with courgette.
I say laver, you say laaver
Laver is most famously known as nori and used to make sushi. Washed many times over, then boiled for hours, the resulting glutinous mass is called laverbread in Wales, where it’s traditionally mixed with oatmeal then fried in bacon fat. In their book From Bath Chaps to Bara Brith, the Taste of South West Britain, Laura Mason and Catherine Brown found reference to laver being gathered and prepared in Braunton in north Devon in 1797 before being packed in earthenware pots and transported to London from Watchet in Somerset.
Laver fan and food features editor Catherine Jones says, ‘We’ve always called it laver here in north Devon, never laverbread (pronounced “laaverbread”). You can pick it up from Butchers’ Row and in the Pannier Market in Barnstaple during months with an “r” in them. I heat it up, mix it with plenty of malt vinegar and eat it with sausages, mashed potato and fried bread. It’s a bit of an acquired taste!’