Five ways to cook with seaweed, as recommended by chef Ivan Tisdall-Downes

From sea lettuce and kelp to dulse and gutweed, the seaweed varieties found around the UK coast can give a nutritious flavour boost to countless dishes.

By Ivan Tisdall-Downes
Published 17 Jun 2021, 17:14 BST
Adding seaweed to a dish is a fantastic way to bring balance and depth to it, ...

Adding seaweed to a dish is a fantastic way to bring balance and depth to it, as it helps draw out flavours from ingredients.

Photograph by Stock Food

When it comes to seaweed, there are two types of people — those who love it, and those who don’t yet realise they love it. But while there’ll always be those who struggle to embrace it, times are changing, as more chefs in the UK incorporate it into their menus.

Seaweed’s appeal lies in the fact that it’s both nutritious and a great source of umami — or savoury deliciousness, as I like to call it. Adding seaweed to a dish is a fantastic way to bring balance and depth to it, as it helps draw out flavours from ingredients, lessening the need for strong seasonings, particularly salt and sugar. At Native we use seaweed in as many ways as possible, especially in places where you’d normally find salt. It features heavily in our desserts, with the savoury umami compounds working wonders with the sweet fattiness of ice creams and caramels.

There are three main types of seaweed: brown (phaeophyta), such as kombu, wakame, sea spaghetti and bladderwrack; red (rhodophyta) such as dulse, nori and carragheen; and green (chlorophyta), such as sea lettuce and gutweed. The taste can range from peppery to sweet, from smoky to herbaceous. Like fruit and veg, each type has its own growing season and requires specific growing conditions. For home cooks, cooking with seaweed might seem daunting at first — but the best way to start is by integrating it into oils, butters, stocks and seasonings, helping to boost the flavour of dishes with minimal effort. See my five top suggestions, below. 

1. Ice cream

An infusion of kelp or bladderwrack works wonderfully in ice creams and sorbets. At Native, we make an apple and seaweed sorbet and a kelp ice cream to pair with stewed blackberries.

2. Caramel

Add a few teaspoons of chopped dulse to your salted caramel recipe, omitting the salt altogether if you wish. You’ll find the results mouth-wateringly addictive.

3. Sauerkraut

To add a mineral and vitamin turbo boost to your sauerkraut, combine some gutweed, sea lettuce or wakame to your cabbage mix before fermenting.

4. Stocks and stews

At Native, we don’t make a stock without adding seaweed. Use tougher varieties like kelp and kombu when making broths or add dulse and sea lettuce to your braised ox cheeks or chicken casserole.

5. Chocolate 

Mix seaweed flakes, crushed fennel seeds and lemon zest with a pinch of salt, then sprinkle this over tempered dark chocolate and allow to set. A double whammy of iron-rich dark chocolate and iodine-rich seaweed.

Ivan Tisdall-Downes is executive chef at Native, a London restaurant he co-founded.

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