In the last few years, seaweed has evolved from sushi-roll staple to everyday snack, thanks to the growing popularity of brands like SeaSnax. But is it actually good—and good for you? In our second installment of “Eat This Now,” we break it all down.
The food: Nori, which is a red seaweed that turns black and green when dried, is one of the most prevalent types for snacks and an easy first dip into seaweed, although there are many types of seaweed, like kelp, that are also widely consumed. As with other “superfoods,” it’s hard to know how much of the hype is a marketing push versus legitimate health claims, but even dried nori has a wealth of nutrients.
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The hype: “In Korean culture, seaweed is like bread,” says Jin Jun, the founder of SeaSnax. “It’s a very sacred part of our culture. It is served to us in soup on our birthday and given to women for three weeks after childbirth. In ancient Korean folklore, the tradition came about by watching whales eat seaweed after giving birth. According to our elders, it is supposed to replenish and rejuvinate the body.”
Other seaweed snack brands, like Annie Chun’s, Sea’s Gift and Trader Joe’s, also tout a variety of health perks, including low fat and calorie counts, and richness in minerals. especially the low calorie count. And, per Sea Gift’s website, “seaweeds offer a tremendous range of therapeutic possibilities.”
The truth: Although much of the rejuvenating claims come from Korean and Japanese traditions—not scientific evidence—other research is starting to confirm that seaweed does indeed contain a wide variety of vitamins and nutrients that could prevent disease. A 2011 study published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reviewed 100 studies on the health benefits of seaweed and reported that some of the proteins in seaweed could serve as better sources of bioactive peptides than those in milk products. These reduce blood pressure, and boost heart health.
Seaweed also has an impressive amount of nutrients like vitamins A, B-6 and C as well as iodine and fiber. And that low calorie count is definitely legitimate: ten sheets of Nori have just 22 calories.
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The preparation: Seaweed can be cooked raw, with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, but snack brands have pushed out some interesting takes on dried nori stacks, like wasabi flavored strips or toasty coconut flavored “sprinkles” to top ice cream or popcorn. It’s difficult to find raw seaweed in the local grocery store, but dried products are making their way from health stores into general supermarkets. “I’ve been seeing seaweed more in more in snacks and even used as noodles,” says Theresa Albert, a nutritionist and diet consultant based in Toronto. “The snacks are actually very lightly processed, with a little seasoning added. I recommend it for my traveling clients because it is a nutrient dense food that you can count on.”
To find raw seaweed to cook up in your own kitchen, Albert recommends visiting Asian markets if one is available. Unfortunately, my own venture into New York City’s Chinatown proved unsuccessful, and I could only purchase dried seaweed—but a lot of it.
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The taste: Not great. As much as I wanted to like the seaweed snacks (and I tried several types), I wasn’t a big fan. To me, it was akin to taking a bite of fish food. Or what I imagine that experience would taste like. I’m a seaweed salad and sushi enthusiast, but chipotle-flavored nori strips just didn’t do it for me. Still, there’s no denying the snacks are growing in variety and popularity—and several of my co-workers really enjoyed them. “We sell to a lot of moms, yogis and coaches,” says Jun.
The takeaway: Try it. Perhaps it’s a trend I’ll personally pass on, but given its impressive nutritional profile, it’s worth a go for more adventures snackers.