Seaweed to Make Big Waves in Indian Snacking Scene

Edible seaweed

What comes to mind first when you hear seaweed? China, Japan? Well, you’re not alone in thinking that. Seaweed has been the staple food for many East Asian countries for a long time. Salads, soups, condiments and even Lays chips, are some popular items that incorporate seaweed.

Now, India is looking to add this versatile marine plant into its culinary arsenal. India is not new to this though. Indian traditional medicine has been using seaweed for thousands of years. The cultivation majorly happens on the shores of Tamil Nadu. Recently, the government has allocated Rs.637 crore for seaweed cultivation. Experts predict that this move will give a major boost in the food industry.

Why grow seaweed in India?

Seaweed is rich in minerals, vitamins, trace elements and bioactive substances. It absorbs the nutrients from the seabed, making it more nutrient-rich than mainland fruits and vegetables. The cultivation process is carbon negative and doesn’t require water or fertilizer for harvesting. Seaweed fits in well with many meals and drinks because it has a salty, umami flavour. There’s more – it’s also vegan, low-calorie and iodine-rich, making it easily accessible for people with dietary requirements.

It’s practically the Marvel superhero of healthy food!

There are a plethora of species available with their own benefits. They can largely be classified as brown, green and red seaweed. As a food source, green seaweed is the best of the three.

Earlier the Indian seaweed industry was limited to biochemicals, gels, and skincare products. But recently the government announced the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana, wherein 637 crore rupees will be allocated towards increasing its production. What does this mean? Well, now you can spend your Sunday evenings relaxing with a seaweed facemask AND eat seaweed chips.

How Seaweed can be incorporated into Indian cuisine

There is more to this marine plant than just sushi and soup. Already, in the West, it is eaten in dried form as a snack, mixed into salads, bread doughs and curd, and used in jellies and puddings. Roasted pieces of seaweed have become widely available as packaged snacks.

seaweed wrapped sushi

You might still not like the briny, leafy flavour on its own. It’s OK, we get it. Which is why we recommend adding some in familiar foods – smoothies, soups and salads, rather than focusing on it alone. Senior scientist CRK Reddy even suggests using edible seaweeds as a nutritional supplement in Indian diet. It also perfect as a garnishing agent. Just a small amount contains lots of micronutrients and just as much taste. Reddy is even developing his own version of seaweed wafers inspired by the Japanese versions, but with a desi twist.

But in India, we don’t have much exposure to this ingredient yet, so it can be off-putting at first. There are ways to make seaweed taste yummy without having to cook like a Masterchef. One way is to make use of its umami flavour.

Umami is known as the ‘fifth taste’. It is a hard-to-describe savoury richness. Ever bit into a juicy, meaty, cheesy burger and felt very satisfied? Or had a plate of Szechwan noodles and it left you craving for more? That’s umami. It’s the sort of flavour that makes your soul feel wholesome.

Seaweed contains glutamate, which imparts the umami flavour. For this reason, it can be used as a substitute for MSG in seasonings, spice sachets in noodle packets or as a flavouring agent.

The next time you’re having chakna with booze, swap out your regular old peanuts and papad with seaweed snacks. Its crunchy and salty nature is perfect with alcohol, so its definitely worth a shot.

Experiment further!

There are way more things you can add seaweed into but first, let’s talk a bit about their varieties.

  • Nori: Available in roasted sheets. Sushi wrapping, garnishes and salad dressings contain Nori.
  • Kombu: This is a type of kelp that is most known for its umami flavour.
  • Wakame: This variety possesses a unique silky texture. It has a mildly sweet taste when eaten raw, and salads usually contain this.
  • Aonori: Mostly used in its dried form, it works great as a seasoning.

If you’re feeling adventurous, make pesto sauce using Nori or Kombu. Let’s take it to another level: Saag Paneer. Sounds weird, but it tastes heavenly. Hydrated Kombu is pretty similar to spinach. Go ahead, add some to bring a fresh take on a classic dish. Chef Aditya Singh Bhadoria from a Bengaluru-based restaurant uses imported seaweed from Japan just to make his curries and soups.

You don’t always have to make seaweed the star of your dish. Regular pasta is boring – swap it out with kelp noodles. Or try using algae oil in your cooking.

(Also see: 5 common cooking oils for Indian kitchens)

The Kombucha Girl went viral last year and memes were doing rounds on the internet because of her hilarious expressions tasting the drink. You’d be having those expressions as well if you knew Kombucha contains spirulina, a type of seaweed.

seeweed drinks

All these dishes have a few things in common- they can be adjusted to make it dairy-free, gluten-free, high fibre and low-calorie thanks to the properties of seaweed. All in all, the budget allocation for seaweed cultivation could finally popularize these umami-packed marine greens in India.

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