If seaweed isn't part of your share of New Hampshire food, it may soon be. At least that's the goal of the “exploration of seaweed” event taking place at Stages at One Washington in Dover.
Sarah Redmond is a Sea Grant agent with Maine Sea Grant and UMaine Cooperative Extension, which are putting on the event with UNH Cooperative Extension and New Hampshire Sea Grant. She joined All Things Considered to talk about what she says is growing excitement around seaweed, also known as sea vegetables.
What kind of variety do we have in seaweeds in this part of the country?
There are about 10 different species of seaweeds or sea vegetables we can use or have traditionally used in cooking and for food. Certainly the lobster bake or clambake is familiar for many people when it comes to the coasts - when it's summer and you have your seafood. Usually the rockweed, which is pretty abundant up and down our coasts on rocky shores, has been used for a long time as a way to either pack, ship or hold lobsters or crabs. But it's also been used to be eaten and cooked with, so that's the traditional use of common rockweed.
Coastal people have always used sea vegetables as a food source, and also as a source for minerals for their garden and their livestock. That goes back to our native populations, but also we had a lot of traditions brought over by the new settlers. Now we're rediscovering these amazing, ancient sea plants and their uses.
Can you encourage someone who might not think of seaweed as a food to try eating it and giving it a fair shake?
Yes. One of the ways we start is by calling them sea vegetables. Seaweed is sort of an easy way to describe what we find on the shore. Sea vegetables is a more specific way of describing the food we eat.
Seeing, touching and learning about them really is a big step forward, because with any type of different food, it takes a little while for your brain to learn and understand and recognize.
You don't need to start consuming large amounts of sea vegetables all of a sudden. You can just add a little bit to everything you like to eat. You don't have to prepare any special dishes, you can just make your soup, or salad, or grilled cheese and just add a little bit of sea vegetable in there to get the benefits.
And what are those benefits?
They have a really unique ability to concentrate minerals from the ocean water. They're an extremely mineral-rich food. One especially important mineral they can concentrate is iodine. It's something we tend to not get enough of if we don't eat a lot of seafood. That's a very important piece of the nutritional story. And sea vegetables are very high in all types of vitamins and minerals and unique biocompounds.
What kind of reaction are you getting from chefs and eaters around the region?
I'm really seeing this awakening of excitement and awareness around sea vegetables, especially when people realize we have them here in our own back yard, and that they're a really amazing and incredible super-food but also a resource for people, and for plants, and for animals.
In Maine last year, we had the very first-ever Maine Seaweed Festival in South Portland, where we just celebrated and educated participants in all the different varieties of seaweeds and their uses. We're planning on doing that again this year. So it's this exciting momentum that's building around what they are and how they can utilize them.