seaweed love

May 15, 2013 in nature

Seaweeds exudate.  Yes, exudate:  in this case, the oozing of fluid from a plant’s pores, like sap from trees.  I had never heard the word, until a few years ago.  One afternoon, my friend S and I were on a bluff that looks over a surf spot in San Diego.  S is a waterman:  sailor, surfer, and windsurfer.  He is also a scientist, who is always willing to share his knowledge and experience.  He explained how the exudation of seaweed or kelp beds affects waves.  What’s exuded changes, in that area, the water’s surface tension and smooths out the waves that pass through the kelp.  Here’s something that’s more commonly known about the relationship between kelp beds and waves.  If you’re at a beach when the ocean is choppy and there are kelp beds, you’ll see that the waves that pass through the kelp are smoother than the ones that don’t.  Like a comb untangling hair, the kelp beds rake out some of the chop.  (This is my unscientific explanation.)  For surfers, this is all good.

Not only for surfers but for most of us, seaweed is more of a lover than a fighter.  For the way we use it, seaweed joins, stabilizes, and gels.  It’s also full of nutrients, heals our wounds, and keeps us clean and healthy.  I’m sure that you’ve seen these words in tiny print on labels for everyday things:  agar, alginates, and carrageenan — all from seaweed.  Seaweed’s products are in store-bought ice cream, puddings, lotions, toothpastes, almond and soy milks, dressings to heal wounds, fertilizers, and animal feed.  The list goes on.  Seaweed surrounds us.  It’s no weed.

For most of us, we get to eat seaweed in its, or nearer to its, original form in sushi or seaweed salads.  Like a lot of Korean-Americans, my first taste of seaweed was in seaweed soup, miyuk gook, which my mom makes.  It’s definitely an acquired taste to think it’s yummy.  For most westerners, the slippery texture of simmered seaweed is creepy.  Raised on Iowa cooking, my husband won’t touch it.  Like the British ads say about their Marmite spread, you either “Love it or hate it.”  Although I hardly ever make it for myself, it’s my chicken soup.


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