Edible Seaweed: Foraging Gourmet Types of Seaweeds in the UK
Updated: Aug 11
Seaweeds can be found and foraged all around the UK. There are thousands of types of seaweed distributed across all the world's oceans, the majority of which are safe to eat.
Seaweeds are an excellent place to begin foraging, edible & packed full of nutrients and minerals, they are also relatively easy to identify. Seaweeds have been used as food and medicine throughout history, but the seaweeds that we are most interested in is the gourmet seaweeds that add umami, salinity, and deliciousness to a multitude of meals.
The Seaweed Plant
Seaweeds are macrophytic marine algae or sea plants that grow in and around our tidal waters. Seaweeds lack the root, stem, and leaf structures that land plants do, despite that fact they have a similar appearance to leafy green land plants.
Most seaweed plants use a holdfast, or anchor, which is often disc-shaped, branching, or claw-like and anchors them through adhesion to rocks, coral, other seaweeds. Some seaweeds float freely in the water because they lack a holdfast. Seaweeds either have a single blade that mimics a leaf, or several blades and a structure called a stipe that resembles a stem.
Seaweeds are self-sufficient in their surroundings; they can get everything they need to stay alive right from the seawater that surrounds them, apart from a little sunlight. The various species of these marine plants have several traits in common, including the ability to provide their own food and absorb nutrients directly from the seawater through their cellular walls rather than through a root system. They all live in saltwater and reproduce by means of spores (sporophylls) rather than seeds.
Seaweeds are exceptionally resilient and resistant to environmental stress; they can withstand the constant shock of crashing waves, the sun's intense rays, and exposure to air during low tides. These are the adaptable, hardy, and the most abundant plants in existence. They can survive in some of the world's most unstable habitats, including rocky, tumultuous beaches. They grow tenaciously on rocky cliffs and are found in every saltwater ocean. The average lifespan of a seaweed plant is just one or two years.
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History of Seaweed
Seaweed has been eaten by humans for millennia. Archaeological digs have revealed that ancient people that frequented coastal areas consumed seaweed. Seaweed was used to pay taxes, heal wounds, make salt by burning it, and given as a gift to the gods in religious ceremonies.
During wartime and famine, when little else was available, seaweed served as a life-sustaining food. It was also fed to domesticated animals and tilled into the soil as a fertilizer. And according to medieval literature, the first environmental laws were even once written to limit the harvesting of certain seaweeds, such as dulse.
Key elements found in seaweed are crucial for good health and mental equilibrium. It contains every vitamin, cell salt, and mineral found in the ocean, along with fibre, bulk, algin, and accessible nutrition in the form of chlorophyll, volatile oil, fucoidan, mannitol, laminarin, and cancer-preventing lignans. It is loaded with Iodine and sodium, packed with amino acids, and also contains sixty trace elements and multiple vitamins. In addition, seaweed is an excellent source of Calcium – Seaweed can only be described as a nutritional powerhouse. Finally, it is also an excellent source of complex sugars but is also very low-calorie, low-fat, and a source quality protein. Is there anything missing that your body might need?
Coastal foraging? Look out for another nutritious sea vegetable called Sea Spinach.
Are there any poisonous seaweeds in the UK?
Fortunately, the edible species such as dulse, kelp, carragheen, laver and sea lettuce are easy to identify and, unlike mushrooms or flowering plants and berries, there are no poisonous seaweeds near to UK shores. Seaweeds are a safe place to begin foraging, just make sure that the area that you are foraging in is clean and away from any land based polluting sources – particularly in estuaries or tidal rivers.
Eating Edible Seaweed
Hundreds of different kinds of sea vegetables are regularly eaten by peoples all over the world. Seaweed comes in a diverse range of hues, textures, and forms. All year round, you can purchase them in health food shops and online. Seaweed is sold in a variety of forms, including whole, fresh, dried, reconstituted, cooked, or pickled, and as a flavouring, culinary ingredient, or condiment. Moreover, seaweeds can be consumed as a tea, tonic, or tincture, even as a dietary supplement in the form of capsules, tablets, or powder.
Is all Seaweed Edible?
All seaweeds can be eaten, however some are more delicious than others. Some types of seaweed taste best when dried or roasted, while others are finest when eaten fresh or mildly heated. Even wonderful desserts can be made using seaweed. Most famous are nori, wakame, hijiki, and dulse, which are used in Michelin star restaurants all over the world. When correctly prepared with other meals and well-seasoned, other species of seaweed, such as kombu, sea palm, sea lettuce, and sugar kelp, are all equally delicious.
Surprisingly, seaweed is used as a component in many foods that you probably already consider favourites. For products with a smooth, thick, or constant texture that are well-liked and have a low-calorie count, look at the ingredient list. Agar Agar is a jelly-like substance, derived from seaweed, with many uses. Seaweed-derived ingredients are used in the creation of ice cream, custard, sauces, and dips, for instance. Seaweed is utilised as a thickener or ingredient in these items, but Agar Agar doesn't have the same nutritional or health benefits for your body as the actual sea vegetable.
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This group of seaweed, known as the Phaeophyta algae, has the largest and most numerous amounts of ocean plants counted amongst its members. Of the more than 2,000 marine species or types of brown seaweed that have been identified, the majority are found in cooler waters, between high and low tides, or continuously submerged underwater.
The pigment (fucoxanthin) in marine plants gives them their distinctive yellowish to light or dark brown colour, concealing other pigments like the green chlorophyll. The iodine level of brown seaweeds is the highest, however their fibre is only partially digestible. Culinary brown seaweeds include:
• Toothed wrack – Eaten as a snack in Scotland
• Bladderwrack - Used sparingly in soups it tastes like salty fish.
• Dabberlocks – Eaten fresh or cooked by communities in the North Atlantic. Salads, soups or fried as a vegetable.
• Thongweed or Sea Spaghetti - Fried on a high heat until crispy and browned, it can be served with fish. Or use like Spaghetti, hence the name.
• Kelp, sugar kelp or kombu - Famously used in Japanese cooking and for its unique umami taste. Good cooked long and slow, also good roasted.
This group of seaweed, known as the Rhodophyta algae, has more than 6,000 species or types of red seaweed that have been identified. Between low intertidal and deep water, they are the only sea plants that can grow at great depths because their red colour pigment, phycoerythrin, can absorb the scant sunlight that can reach that depth. Yet the so-called red seaweeds aren't usually red; they can also have a yellowish, pinkish, or purple tinge. RMA, or red marine algae, are potent antiviral substances that are abundant in agar and carrageenan. Culinary red edible seaweeds include:
• Dulse - Great to eat on its own raw of add to cooking. Famously used as a vegan bacon alternative.
• Pepper Dulse – Has a flavour of raw, peppery fish. Great in salads
• Carragheen or Irish moss – Largely tasteless but used as a vegan alternative to gelatine. Used to set desserts and thicken sauces.
• Nori & Laver – Two species, identical uses. It used to be used for making laver bread in Wales and is sometimes served cold with vinegar in Cornwall.
The bulk of the almost 8,000 marine species of green seaweed in this group, collectively known as the Chlorophyta algae, grow in warm, shallow waters in the upper intertidal zone. These seaweeds illustrate the link between land and sea because of their thin, leaf-like, distinctively light to dark green colour, which is caused by the distinctive green chlorophylls. As they grow closest to the beach, these seaweeds are the easiest to forage yourself and of all these seaweeds are particularly beneficial to us as food. Culinary green edible seaweeds include:
• Sea Lettuce – The most tender of all UK seaweeds. When deep fried, they make translucent chips! Also, good steamed or stuffed.
Is collecting seaweed illegal in the UK?
Seaweed collection for personal use, in small qualities does not require a licence. Avoid taking seaweeds from designated conservation areas and follow the guide below to make sure that you are safe and do not diminish local stocks of certain seaweeds.
The Seaweed Foraging Guide
When foraging seaweeds, there are several rules that you should follow, these are for your safety and to maintain healthy supplies of edible seaweeds for us and the animals that rely on them. Seaweed may seem plentiful, but it is very easy to strip a location of a single variety, particularly if it is a favourite of yours and other foragers in the location.
The eight guidelines to follow:
1. Make sure the beach or shore that you are foraging from is clean, be aware of sewage pipes and farm run off. Wherever you are in the UK you can check the quality of the water by visiting here.
2. Be aware of the tides, the best time to forage is after a Spring Tide, the water will be at its lowest and you’ll have better access to fresh seaweed. Check tide times in your area here.
3. Again, be aware of the tides. The UK is surrounded by some fast-moving water, so understand the location that you are foraging in and always be aware, keep an eye out for the upcoming water. It is easy to get caught out when you are not paying attention.
4. Don’t pick anything floating in the sea or above the high tide mark. This may be dead, diseased, or unworthy of your plate.
6. Try to harvest below the tidal mark, preferably in a rock pool. This is where the water will be freshest.
7. Cut the seaweed with scissors or a sharp knife and leave the hold fast (roots) so it can regrow.
8. When harvesting, make sure that you move locations regularly so that you do not deplete a certain seaweed in a particular area. Only take as much as you need and will use.
Get fishing with these fantastic Sea Fishing Rods and Tackle.
How to Store Seaweed
In a cold refrigerator, fresh seaweed should keep for up to three days, and cooked seaweed can keep for up to a week. Although it can also be frozen, drying or dehydrating fresh seaweed is the preferred method of preservation. If you are drying seaweed, it should be cleaned, dried, and stored in heavy glass jars or airtight plastic bags in a cool, dark place. Preserved like this, they can last for years.
How to Dry Seaweed
Drying edible seaweed is simple, it takes a little time but is largely very simple to do. Here’s how to dry Seaweed in a few simple steps.
1. Rinse your Seaweed in fresh water, remove all dirt.
2. Remove any older or damaged parts of the Seaweed.
3. Soak in fresh water (bucket or sink) for a few hours to reduce the salt content.
4. Dry the Seaweed in the sun or in a warm place using strings or by laying it flat and turning regularly.
5. Drying times will vary depending on what you are drying, but it will reduce significantly in size, down to about 1/5th.
6. Once completely dry, store in an airtight container, it will last for months.
Unless you are using a dried, ground, or flaked Seaweed, most recipes will call for the Seaweed to be rehydrated. To do this, simply leave them in fresh water for an hour or so.
When is Seaweed in Season?
If you dry or preserve your Seaweed, then you will have a plentiful supply all year around. However, when it comes to fresh Seaweed or when it’s time to replenish your stock you will find that some species of edible seaweeds can be found from mid-winter. But the best time to look for them is the spring and summer, that is when the richest bounty is to be had. Some seaweeds continue to grow throughout winter, however, it's not a good time to forage as most species are re-generating over the colder months.
Find out what wild food is in season with our UK Foraging Calendar.
What are the best gourmet edible Seaweeds to eat and forage in the UK?
Laver and Nori:
Laver or Porphyra umbilicalis, takes its name from the literal Welsh name for red seaweed. It's got lettuce-type leaves which are almost identical to Japanese nori – the one you see wrapped around your sushi. Indeed, the two species are very hard to tell apart.
Colour: Purple-red colour to green. Olive green or black when dried.
Texture: Smooth, gelatinous, and floppy.
Holdfast: Grows straight out of the rock.
Habitat: Grows on rocks and stones on exposed sandy beaches
Dulse or Pepper Dulse:
Dulse (Palmaria Palmata) or Pepper Dulse (Osmundea Pinnatifida) are well known snack foods. When used in cooking, dulse's properties are like those of a flavour-enhancer due the high levels of umami. Dulce butter is delicious. The most obvious visual difference between Dulse and Pepper Dulse is the size of the fronds. Dulse is much bigger and noticeable. It can also be found much more easily further up the beach. Pepper Dulse is also known as the ‘Truffle of the Sea’.
Colour: Purple-red colour to green. Olive green or black when dried.
Texture: Smooth, gelatinous, and floppy.
Holdfast: Grows straight out of the rock.
Habitat: Prefers to grow on rocks that are most of their time submerged by the tide, Pepper Dulse can be found slightly higher up the beach
Common all over the world, Sea Lettuce (Ulva Lactuca) grows well (and long – up to 45cm) here in the UK. This vivid green seaweed is sometimes used as a substitute for Nori in Sushi. It can be added to soups and salads, eaten raw or dried. It is my favourite green seaweed to add colour to a seaweed salt. You can also use it as a flavoursome and delicious protective wrap when grilling fish or shellfish.
Colour: Bright green glossy, tissue like leaves. Sometimes called green laver, it looks like laver. Sometimes has a golden edge or trim when it is reproducing.
Texture: Like a wet, thin piece of tender green paper.
Holdfast: Tiny central holdfast, with fronds in single layers above it.
Habitat: Found growing on rocks, on mudflats and in sandy rockpools or even on the stems of larger seaweeds. It prefers sheltered areas.
Thongweed or Sea Spaghetti:
Sea Spaghetti (Himanthalia elongate) is a sea vegetable with many uses. It can be used as saline pasta alternative or included in chutneys and pickles, in fresh salads (raw, cooked or pickled) or many other ways. It is a great candidate for powdering and used to add umami and deep flavour to soups and stews. Thongweed is better cooked when it gets longer than 30cm or so.
Colour: Dark brown strands or fronds that divide and which are flat and long – up to 2m.
Texture: Thick, fleshy consistency with a gentle bite to it.
Holdfast: Distinctive button shaped hold-fast
Habitat: Lower rocky shores, especially in semi-exposed locations
Kelp, Sugar Kelp or Kombu:
Until recently pretty much ignored by UK cooks, Kelp (Laminaria Digitata) or Sugar Kelp (Saccharina Latissima) has seen a resurgence of late, with chefs and restaurants taking ingredients from eastern cooking. Kelp or Kombu is an essential ingredient in dashi stock, where it is cooked with dried bonito flakes. Kombu has a subtle, briny taste, which is extremely rich in umami, and it can be made into butters, used as a seasoning, baked, or even used in teas. Try making Sugar Kelp into delicious seaweed crisps.
Colour: A brown seaweed with great, glossy fan shaped fronds or digits.
Texture: Tender, chewy texture
Holdfast: Branched and broad holdfast, that can be large. Designed to hold it to rocks in the strongest of tides.
Habitat: Rocky shores below the low-tide mark.
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I love Seaweed salt, it’s an essential seasoning when I am cooking seafood. Its relatively simple to make to, the only slightly time-consuming part is drying or toasting the seaweeds. To make a seaweed salt, select a variety of coloured seaweeds, a red seaweed such as dulse, a green such as sea lettuce and a brown (black when dried) such as kelp. Make sure that they are thoroughly dried, and this salt will last for ages. Take 8 grams of your favourite seaweeds and chop or bash in a mortar and pestle until you get flakes and some powder, don’t smash it to dust, the texture and the colours should be visible in the final salt. Then add 4 Tbsp of sea salt. Stir in and store. Try seasoning the mash potato topping with seaweed salt in this delicious fish pie.
Like salt, this is a fantastic embellishment for fish. You’ll need a block of butter (250g) at room temperature and a handful of your favourite seaweeds, this time you can use fresh. I particularly like to use Nori and Dulse in this butter. In a dry frying pan, toast your seaweeds until they are crisp, and the smell of the sea is filling your kitchen. Place in a mortar and pestle or herb blitzer and grind to small flakes. Stir into the butter and then using clingfilm, roll the butter into a sausage shape. This can then be stored in the freezer until you are ready to use. I love this on top of a grilled Dab. So good.
Quick Seaweed Salad
Using any dried seaweeds, you can rehydrate your seaweed and make a delicious salad or Wakame. Served at room temperature, this nutritious salad is a total winner.
Handful of dried seaweeds
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
Soak your dried seaweed for 15 mins. Squeeze out all the water. Make the dressing by mixing your vinegar, oil, salt, and sugar with a fork. Chop your seaweed into bite sized pieces and then stir through the dressing. Top with toasted sesame seeds and enjoy.
Serve this alongside a prawn and sea vegetable frittata.
Gourmet Seaweeds in the UK
Being in the UK, our island is surrounded by bountiful waters. Fish, seafood, sea vegetables and seaweeds abound – if we take care of them. There are a whole host of delicious, nutritious, umami packed gourmet seaweeds for you to forage and cook as well. Countless seaweed recipes too.
Remember to follow the rules, take care of the rising tide, and enjoy yourself. Keep an eye out for other gourmet edibles when you are foraging too.
We hope that you have enjoyed our guide to edible gourmet seaweeds of the UK!
... Happy foraging!
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