“It is a high quality source of protein, whose cultivation doesn’t take up agricultural land, and uses hardly any fresh water.”
In the quest for new foods to restore our bodies’ health as well as the planet’s, it seems like an impossible challenge to find foods that are both sustainable and tasty. Luckily, author and chef Lisette Kreischer has found a way to do both with a little help from the sea. In her upcoming cookbook, Ocean Greens, Kreischer explains how to turn the vegetables we often neglect into beautiful appetizers, entrees, and desserts. GOOD had the chance to speak with Kreischer about the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle and how we can make sea plants a new pantry staple.
How long have you been eating sea plants and what inspired you to put together a book of recipes?
I became fascinated and intrigued with food when I was 10 years old. At about that same time, I developed a conscious mind and I noticed how food impacts everything. Many years later, Roos Rutjes and I found each other through our mutual love of sustainability and the plant-based kitchen when we were both studying at the Styling Academy in Amsterdam in 2006. After attending a beautiful and impressive lecture from ocean protector Dos Winkel, we developed our mission to make the plant-based kitchen and edible seaweed more appealing to the masses.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Seaweed is considered the new green gold and many scientists agree that this little green plant can save our planet. [/quote]
Fast forward to 2012 and my good friend (and now colleague) Mark Kulsdom and I developed the Dutch Weed Burger, a 100 percent plant-based burger enriched with seaweed—we even produced a documentary about it in New York City. The combination of plant power and seaweed turned out to be a huge success. Roos and I felt a huge possibility here. Because of our love of all the beautiful nuts, grains, legumes, seeds, vegetables, fruit, herbs, and algae that are around, we started to long for a beautiful book about algae and seaweeds. We were both using it more and more—and eating a lot of Dutch Weed Burgers of course—so we felt it was time to take it up another level. After a lot of experimentation in the kitchen and taste tests with seaweed, we knew that we had to make a book about it. A cookbook, filled with delicious recipes that would subtly introduce the reader to unique kinds of algae and seaweeds.
Most people, when they think of seaweed, picture those dried, dark green sheets used in sushi. How many edible sea plants are available that we have no idea about?
In Asian countries, seaweed has been on the menu for thousands of years. Some researchers even believe that seaweed has been consumed in China since as far back as 2700 BCE. Seaweed has been used for centuries around the world, and not only in Asia. We know that the ancient Greeks, as well as the indigenous populations of Hawaii, Scotland, and Scandinavia consumed seaweed in earlier times. The Romans used seaweed for joint disorders. In Ireland, people started collecting seaweed for consumption and to use as fertilizer around 1200 CE.
To this date, we already know about tens of thousands of species of algae, and new species are being discovered constantly. With a rich variety of seaweed species to choose from, there’s a wondrous world of flavors and culinary possibilities waiting to be discovered by the seaweed consumer. Most species are edible, but not all algae are equally suitable for the novice ’weed-eater. Typically, the most edible seaweeds are the ones that live in salt water. Freshwater algae are much less suitable for consumption. You will perceive a big difference in taste among different kinds of seaweed.
What do these plants taste like? How do they compare to standard vegetables?
There are many types of algae used in recipes, most notably in Asian cuisine. Among the most common types are dulse, Irish moss, nori, kombu (kelp), wakame, arame, hijiki, toothed wrack, fucus, devil’s apron, Norwegian kelp (or knotted wrack), oarweed, sea lettuce, and sea spaghetti. All of these are deliciously salty and briny, yet each has its own distinct character. Oarweed, for example, contains strong and salty flavors, while sea lettuce is soft with a refined taste to it. If you have no experience eating seaweed, it’s best to begin with an accessible ’weed species that is easy to use in combination with other ingredients. Given the wide variation in taste and texture, it’s an adventure to find out what you like and with which dishes they go well. Some algae can be eaten raw; all you have to do is just rinse them with (salt) water. Most algae are best cooked, dried, baked, or roasted—and taste wonderful and a bit like the ocean.
Regarding health, seaweed contains many minerals and vitamins that can easily be absorbed by the body. And because of the high concentration of fiber in seaweed, sugars in the digestive system are absorbed more slowly, which causes blood sugar levels to rise at a slower rate. Seaweed also contains many healthy fatty acids and specific amino acids.
How can we find sea vegetables in our own neighborhoods? What if we don't live in a coastal area?
I am not fully aware of available seaweed in the U.S., but I do know that you have some beautiful seaweed farmers working very hard to get seaweed on the shelves. For example, Maine Coast Sea Vegetables have been harvesting seaweed since 1971 from the North Atlantic Coast. Their ‘weed is organic, fresh and super clean, and you can read their wonderful story here.
In Ocean Greens we have included a nice list where you can find more information about seaweed and where to buy it. A lot can be found through the internet. Of course, through this book we hope that more people will become interested in seaweed and will want to cook with it. It is still a small market but it’s growing rapidly. My wish is that it will grow sustainably, in a way that will support nature and sea animals as well as those on land.
How can eating sea plants help save the environment?
We do believe that seaweed can help save the environment, but, mind you, we are not only talking about sea plants. We are talking about plants in general. The plant-based diet has been proven to be very efficient when it comes to using precious fresh water and agricultural land, as well as cutting down on CO2 emissions. Seaweed is considered the new green gold. It is a high-quality source of protein, whose cultivation doesn’t take up agricultural land, and uses hardly any fresh water.
However, as the seaweed market grows bigger, we have to pay attention that we don’t make the same mistakes that we have made the last 60 to 120 years or so. We all have the power to change everything and it is now time to change much of how we are making choices, starting with the way we eat and the way we produce our food.
All images via Lisette Kreischer with styling by Roos Rutjes.