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On a bright spring morning, there’s a stiff wind blowing across a stretch of rocky beach in Rye, N.H. Becky Zeiber is dressed for the weather in a down jacket and waders. She makes her way through tidal pools carrying a cooler.
She also carries a knife.
“I’ve kind of got an eye now for what I should be looking for,” said Zeiber.
She’s on the hunt for seaweed, which at low tide, is everywhere. She rakes her hand across a tide pool and cuts off a wide, flat piece.
“This is dulse, you often see this in natural food markets,” she explained. “This is thin enough that you can just eat it. I, mean I do.”
Zeiber comes out to the beach every couple of weeks to collect seaweed that ends up in shakes and salads. Sometimes called the ocean’s answer to kale, seaweed is filled with nutrients. Like kale, seaweed is trendy as both a food and as a food to forage.
It’s like going out to your own garden and knowing where your tomatoes come from.
“I think people want to connect with their environment,” said Gabriela Bradt, Commercial Fisheries Specialist at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension and N.H. Sea Grant. A couple of years ago she started leading seaweed foraging workshops. They've become so popular, she increased them from twice to eight times a year.
“That whole local-vore local food system movement, people are grabbing hold of that and they really want to know 'where did my food come from?' and what better way than go pick it yourself? It’s like going out to your own garden and knowing where your tomatoes come from,” explained Bradt.
Like tomatoes, seaweed comes in many varieties. And while Bradt says most are likely edible, she sticks to 10 that are commercially available and widely consumed, in some cases, for centuries.
“This is a fun one,” says Bradt holding up a piece of seaweed that curls on the end. “This is Irish Moss.”
It’s been used, since the time of the Pilgrims, to make pudding.
“Put it in milk, add sugar and cinnamon, boil it and that’s pudding,” said Bradt. “And you don’t have to add gelatin because it has its own.
Below are the 10 seaweed species that are commercially available and widely consumed. (Photos Courtesy of the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension and N.H. Sea Grant)
Bradt says at home she serves her kids seaweed in a grilled cheese or dried into a salty chip. Her seaweed foraging workshops, however, often end inside the kitchen at Stages restaurant in Dover, New Hampshire. Chef Evan Hennessey is a fellow forager and serves seaweed regularly. He likes its versatility for soups, puffed into pastries and added to other foods as a thickening agent.
“We like to take it and just see what it’s possibilities are,” said Hennessey. “Like any ingredient [seaweed] is never intended to be just one way. It has a lot of flavor, a lot of versatility.”
Seaweed, of course, is not for everyone, but it is in things lots of people consume: ice cream, toothpaste, beer, and more. It’s also used as a biofuel and regenerates on its own.
“I always say, seaweed will save the world,” said Bradt.