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Seaweeds and Sea Otters

Seaweeds and Sea Otters

Seaweeds and sea otters have a symbiotic relationship as evidenced by the rafts of sea otters (Enhydrus lutra), numbering in the hundreds, bobbing amongst the kelp beds just north of Tofino in Kyuquot Sound, Vancouver Island. These furry creatures are closely intertwined with the life 

Rediscovery in a Time of Pandemic

Rediscovery in a Time of Pandemic

In 2017, I retired from a twenty-six-year career as Dr. Isabella Uzaraga, a palliative care physician. I told my colleagues that I had given twenty-six years to medicine and I wanted to give back to the planet. At the time, my husband had already retired 

Canadian consumption of seaweed

Canadian consumption of seaweed

Although Canada is surrounded by naturally growing seaweed, Canadians consume only a small proportion of the harvested wild or cultivated seaweeds. Yet, in 2016, Canada imported over $11 million dollars of seaweed products mainly from Japan, Korea and China (Gov. of Canada, 2018). This shows that Canadians need to be mindful of the benefits of buying locally.  Let’s look at some seaweed resources, reasons to buy locally, and social behavioural changes to get Canadians to eat seaweeds.

Canadian Consumption of Seaweed Resources

canadian consumption of seaweed kelp
Naturally grown Kelp on Vancouver Island

Canadians harvest wild and cultivated kelp grown in some of the most pristine waters in the world. For instance, in British Columbia, two companies (Canadian Kelp and Cascadia Seaweed) cultivate kelp, and one (North Pacific Kelp) harvests wild stock. Wild stock kelp is highly prized for its quality by some Japanese since past storms destroyed their own wild stocks off the coast of Hokkaido (Krumhansl, 2016). Unfortunately, the store bought dried kelp from China, Korea and Japan are still up to four to five times cheaper than our local kelp. So why should we buy Canadian kelp?

Reasons to Buy Locally

Let’s start by looking at locally grown land vegetable models to make sense of buying locally.  In Quebec, start-ups for rooftop gardens are on the rise (“Rooftop garden projects in Montreal”, 2018).  More than eight exist already in Montreal to supply individuals, community and super markets. They meet the market demand for fresh organic produce but also cut down on the greenhouse gas emissions of fossil fuels for food transport. Furthermore, the rooftop gardens give back in air quality, take up less land than conventional farms, are sustainable, and engage the community. Likewise, locally grown seaweeds in Canada generate all of the same benefits: seaweeds sequester carbon from the atmosphere, are sustainable, don’t take up any land to grow, and engage the community. Furthermore, if Canadians would embrace seaweed in their diets as a social norm, then these benefits could exponentially increase.

Social Behavioural Change Models to increase Canadian consumption of seaweeds

Canadian consumption of seaweed nori
Naturally grown nori from Vancouver Island makes a great snack

Finally, because Canadian cuisine is an emerging cuisine, social behavioural change models such as the New Nordic Food movement (Haughan, 2018) may increase Canadian consumption of seaweeds. Through public education, public engagement meals, school programs aimed at health promotion, online tools to promote setting up events locally and internationally, the New Nordic Food movements (I and II) got people to eat seaweed. Furthermore, Canada is a young country with evolving cuisines from a melting pot of different cultures, some of which traditionally eat seaweed. If efforts provide capability (knowledge and skills to cook seaweeds), motivation (emotional desire to eat seaweed), with opportunity (markets that sell seaweed), then perhaps seaweed could be the social norm in the Canadian diet.

In summary, public efforts in environmental concerns and social behavioural changes could increase Canadian consumption of seaweed.  If I have convinced you to try eating seaweed, here is how to start.

Eight Tips to Start Eating Seaweed

  1. Soak or boil your beans with a piece of kelp. It will soften the beans, cut down on cooking and soaking time and reduce flatulence. Dry the kelp in the oven and re-purpose into seaweed powder.
  2. Dashi stock (from boiled kelp) can replace chicken broth for vegetarian dishes.
  3. Use seaweed powders to enhance taste in meat, vegetables, salad dressings, etc. without added salt.
  4. Use seaweed flakes on roasted vegetables, salads, focaccia, pasta to enhance nutrients and flavour.
  5. Put some wakame in instant noodle soups for your kids. It’s mild, easy to eat and nutrient rich.
  6. Nori has the strongest umami taste but the crispy textures in snacks and sheets for sushi are desirable. Cut it up into small slivers and sprinkle on salads, pasta, hotdogs (Jap dogs), etc.
  7. Add seaweed to smoothies for nutrients.
  8. Agar replaces pectin as a thickener for vegetarian dishes.
  9. Ground dried wrack or rockweed is a vegetarian alternative to anchovies

Reference

Haughan, H. “Introducing Seaweed as part of the New Nordic Diet”. Dept. of Product Design, Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Retrieved on 2018/04/08 from https://www.ntnu.edu/documents/139799/1270604448/TPD4505.henrikke.haugan.pdf/61fd67d4-cb3f-45a6-aeb7-e7abb6c2ea14

Krumhansl, K. A., et al. (2016). Global patterns of kelp forest change over the past half-century. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America113(48), 13785–13790. http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1606102113

“Rooftop garden projects in Montreal”. Alternatives. Retrieved on 2018/05/03 from https://www.alternatives.ca/en/project-campaign/rooftop-gardens-project-montreal

“Seaweeds and other algae: Fit for Human Consumption—Canadian Importers Database”. Gov. of Canada. Retrieved on 2018/05/02 from https://www.ic.gc.ca/app/scr/ic/sbms/cid/productReportHS10.html?hsCode=1212210000

Thermal Windows save energy

Thermal Windows save energy

Today, we installed into the seaweed cabin thermal windows to save energy. As you recall, I quoted in an Interior Storm Window blog that windows, doors and skylights can lose 35% of energy in a home (Government of Canada, 2020). Initially, we installed some DIY 

A walk in a kelp forest

A walk in a kelp forest

A walk in a kelp forest is the opposite to what you see in a Westcoast rainforest. Recently, himself and I walked through a local forested vale, but could not see the tops of the trees as we looked up to the canopy. However, when 

Weird Seaweeds Recipes

Weird Seaweeds Recipes

Despite how most people imagine seaweeds as that long slimy stuff they must wade through on the beach, some weird seaweeds break away from the typical kelp-like structure of blade or leaf, holdfast or root and some form of stem or stipe.  These unique seaweeds have bulbous and stringy structures that for foodies such as me, make for unique dishes. If you have an adventurous culinary spirit, then let’s explore some weird seaweed recipes made from unique seaweeds.

From our bio diverse shores of Vancouver Island come weird seaweed recipes

On a fresh spring morning, himself and I wandered down to our biodiverse Vancouver Island bay during a very low tide to find about 10 different types of weird seaweeds within an area of only 0.5 km². Pleasantly, we also found 3 different types of nudibranchs (sea slugs), 3 species of sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea anemones and egg pods laid by whelks.  Among the seaweeds, we foraged three species to add to our culinary experiments: two were tubular and one was bulbous.

Tubular weed weird seaweed recipes

Scytosiphon lomentoria (soda straw) and Dumontia contorta (tubular weed) skim the tops of tide pools from small round holdfasts attached to the rocks. Easy to collect and readably abundant, we gently gathered above the holdfasts leaving at least 30% of the seaweeds to regrow.  Subsequently at home, we lightly coated them with arrowroot powder only (no batter needed), then shallow fried them in hot oil making a salty crispy treat.  I fashioned them into Indian bhajis and served them with fresh coconut sambal. Wow!  The salty crispy flavour of the fried seaweeds paired deliciously with the sweet aromatic flavours of the coconut sambal.

Oyster thief weird seaweed recipes

weird seaweed recipes, oyster thief
Bulbous oyster thief seaweed floating on top of biodiverse seaweeds

The second weirdest seaweed were the bulbous oyster thief or Colpomenia perigrina.  Originally from Japan, this invasive seaweed arrived to Vancouver Island with oyster shipments. The bulbous form is the thallus or fragmentation form that can float from the parent plant and reproduce an entirely new plant anywhere.  I suppose it thieved oyster spores also, hence the name.   It is not slimy, does not smell “seaweedy” and tastes like iceberg lettuce but has more nutritional value.  It falls apart when heated, therefore, it should be eaten fresh.  I filled them with the same filling for  Chinese lettuce wraps. However, they held together better than traditional lettuce wraps, and easily popped into our mouths as a fresh snack.

Next time you are at a beach, take a closer look.  On pristine biodiverse beaches, to a foody such as myself, it can resemble a sea vegetable market. To others, it may just look like a serene place to linger and listen to the waves. That’s cool too.

Tubular and soda straw seaweed Indian bhajis with fresh coconut sambal (shown above)

weird seaweed recipe, tubular and soda straw seaweed bhaji

Wash seaweeds and dry with towel.  Toss in arrowroot flour. Heat oil in a frying pan. Deep fry until crispy on both sides.

Fresh coconut sambal

½ c shredded fresh coconut

½ tsp. sambal oelek (chili sauce) or ½ tbsp dried chili flakes

1 tbsp Maldive fish (dried skipjack tuna)

1 shredded medium onion

Pinch sugar to taste

1 tsp. lime juice

Mix all ingredients and serve with bhagis.

Oyster thief “lettuce” wraps

weird seaweed recipes, oyster thief

 Wash oyster thief thoroughly with fresh water.  Cut away hairs that attach it in the wild. Make small opening to stuff filling.

Filling

454 g ground pork or tofu ground round

50 g cooked shrimp

½ shallot chopped

½ tsp. shredded ginger

1 tsp. sesame oil

1 tsp. soya sauce

1 tbsp. chopped red pepper

Pepper to taste

Heat 1 tbsp. oil in frying pan.  Brown shallots and ginger.  Add pork and seasonings until cooked.  Add red peppers and shrimp last.  Serve stuffed inside oyster thief seaweed.

Iodine in seaweed

Iodine in seaweed

On a recent trip to the wild pristine Westcoast of Vancouver Island to learn about local seaweeds, many of the participants expressed concern about iodine in seaweeds. Iodine is a mineral that our bodies cannot produce.  Our bodies use it to make thyroid hormone.  Thyroid 

B.C. Indigenous seaweed recipes

B.C. Indigenous seaweed recipes

B.C. indigenous seaweed recipes explores the consumption of seaweed for millenia by coastal inhabitants, and discusses the Kelp Highway Theory that predicts that indigenous people traversed Beringia, the Bering Strait land bridge, from Asia to North and South America through kelp forests (Braje, 2017). Essentially, 

Oysters and seaweeds

Oysters and seaweeds

Oysters have a symbiotic relationship with seaweeds. Some shellfish industries utilize this knowledge by cultivating the two in the same ecosystem. Furthermore, the market for shellfish grows every year with consumers wanting clean, high quality oysters that are sustainably grown; therefore, it is worth looking at the relationship of oysters and seaweeds.

Oysters and seaweeds symbiosis

oysters and seaweeds, rockweed
Collecting oysters from the rock pools where rockweed, fucus distichus, seaweed grows
oysters and seaweed symbiosis
Fanny Bay oysters growing beside sea lettuce, Gabriola Island

Firstly, seaweeds remove and utilize the nitrogen and phosphorus waste products of oysters.  In turn, they provide oxygen for the oysters to grow.  Some cultivated oyster farms have lines of kelp growing beside the oysters. Even in the wild, they grow side by side.  On Vancouver Island, Fanny Bay oysters grow on rocks beside rockweed or on mud bays beside sea lettuce.  When I collect oysters I also collect seawater and the seaweeds to place on top of the oysters for transport home. The oysters will stay fresher that way.

Know the origins of your oysters

Furthermore, grocery store or restaurant served oysters go through a process called depuration: the oysters are placed in clean circulating seawater tanks for 48 to 72 hours to filter out fecal contaminants including harmful bacteria. However, traditional depuration methods may not remove viruses such as Norwalk and Hepatitis A (1). These viruses bind to the gut tissue of the oyster and avoid their filtration systems (1). It is important to know where your oysters come from and that they are not near poor water quality areas subject to sewage.

Oysters and seaweeds share similar aromas

oysters and seaweeds
“Three biter” fanny bay oyster

Flavour depends on three factors  aroma, taste and texture. The aroma from oysters and seaweed arise mostly from dimethyl sulfide (2). It’s that clean ocean smell that can become more fishy or sulfurous in higher concentrations.  Dried rockweed distinctly smells of oysters and is not fishy at all. After all, you are what you eat and the oyster filter feeds the same nutrients and some of the algal elements of the rockweed. Thus, when biting into an oyster, pay attention to the aroma, salt level and texture. For example, some oysters such as Fanny Bay, Kumamoto and Kusshi have a cucumber aroma. Some oysters are saltier depending on the time of year. The texture will change with the season and with how you cook the oyster. I like to roast oysters collected from our clean bay over a campfire to get them to open. If I get the oyster off the grill just as it opens, the flesh is slurpy and saltier. If left longer on the flame, the flesh becomes chewier and less briny.

Vegan alternative to oyster mayo

seaweeds and oysters cauliflower burger with wrack mayonnaise

If you like the taste of oysters but are wary of the risk of viral contamination or want a vegan alternative, then rockweed powder is a safe option.  Oyster mayonnaise is often served on burgers, meats and seafood.   I have presented a vegan alternative rockweed mayonnaise served on a very delicious cauliflower “burger”.

VEGAN CAULIFLOWER TUMERIC BURGER WITH ROCKWEED MAYONNAISE

The smoky salty flavours of the mayonnaise pairs well with the “meaty” spicy cauliflower and sweet acidic bread and butter pickles.

1 small cauliflower head, leaves and stem trimmed.

1 tsp. ground turmeric

1 tsp. sambal oelek (chili paste)

30ml olive oil

Slice lengthwise down centre of cauliflower stem. Trim florets off each rounded side making 2 “steaks”. Whisk together turmeric, chili and olive oil.  Slather on both sides of cauliflower.  Roast in high oven at 425°F for 10 min. one side, flip, then 15 min. other side until edges caramelize and centre is firm. Roast the trimmed off florets for another meal also.

Rockweed mayonnaise

¼ c vegan mayonnaise

3 tsp. rockweed powder (dry rockweed in 200 F oven for 30min. then grind in spice grinder)

½ tsp. grainy mustard

1 tsp. liquid smoke

Mix together.  Spread on hamburger buns. Add roasted cauliflower, lettuce leaves, and bread and butter pickles. Enjoy with a cold beer.

Vegan Salsa Verde

Vegan salsa verde with roasted potatoes

The salty, acid and herbal flavor of salsa verde will change any bland carbohydrate, eggs, or roasted vegetable into something outstanding. Rockweed replaces anchovies as a vegan alternative.

1 small garlic clove
1 tbsp capers, drained and rinsed
1-2 tbsp. rockweed powder
1 large bunch of parsley
½ bunch fresh mint
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp. dijon mustard
250ml olive oil
1 cornichon or gherkin pickle

Chop everything in a food processor. Season to taste.

References

  1. Mcleod, C. et al., “Final Report: Evaluating the effectiveness of depuration in removing norovirus from oysters”. Seafood Safety Assessment Ltd. and the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea. Feb. 2017.
  2.  Fujimura,T., et al. (25 Feb. 2000). Enzymes and seaweed flavour. Simpson and Haard (Ed). Seafood Enzymes: Utilization and Influence on Postharvest Seafood Quality. New York: CRC Press pp 386. ISBN 978-0-8247-0326-4.
Degrowth and Environmental Justice

Degrowth and Environmental Justice

The COVID-19 pandemic thrusts the degrowth and environmental justice movements to the forefront as life in societies come to a standstill and conventional market economies plummet (CBC news, 2020). Spearheaded by public debate in France, Italy, Spain, North and Central America (Degrowth.org, 2019) and even