Home­grown Hand­made

There’s a great source of free greens in the sea, if you know the ones to look out for.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Jane Wrig­glesworth

5 tasty sea­weeds to for­age

There’s a cer­tain beach on Auck­land’s North Shore that seems to make the news ev­ery year. Not for its fine looks but for the lumpy, sand hop­per-rid­den, rot­ting mess that washes ashore af­ter a spell of bad weather.

The sea­weed causes much angst among the lo­cals. It’s of­ten left for days, some­times weeks, be­fore it’s re­moved by Coun­cil at great ex­pense.

It seems a shame that some hor­ti­cul­tural en­tre­pre­neur, or even the lo­cals, could not come by and col­lect it and turn it into a nu­tri­tious brew for their gar­den.

Sea­weed is full of min­er­als, vi­ta­mins and en­zymes. It has been shown to im­prove seed ger­mi­na­tion, stim­u­late root and veg­e­ta­tive growth, and in­crease the yield of var­i­ous crops like po­ta­toes, toma­toes, pep­pers and grapes. There is ev­i­dence it helps plants in times of stress, such as drought, dis­ease, in­sect dam­age and cold weather. It also acts as a soil con­di­tioner, im­prov­ing its struc­ture and wa­ter-hold­ing ca­pac­ity.

You can eat some of the sea­weeds you har­vest too as those same valu­able nu­tri­ents are ben­e­fi­cial to hu­mans.

“Nori wrapped around rice and fish is pretty much the ex­tent of most peo­ple’s un­der­stand­ing of how sea­weed can be eaten,” says Hank Shaw, US for­ager, an­gler, gar­dener, food writer and au­thor of three cook­books.

“But that’s just a bare scratch­ing of what hap­pens to be a whole world of uses for sea veg­eta­bles. Kelp pick­les, for ex­am­ple, are fan­tas­tic.”

Renowned Can­ter­bury for­ager Pe­ter Lang­lands agrees. He works full-time gath­er­ing wild foods for Am­is­field Vine­yard & Bistro in Queen­stown, and says there are more than 900 species of sea­weed in New Zealand.

“Within those there’s prob­a­bly about 100 species that would be read­ily use­able in a culi­nary way,” he says. “Within those 100 there are 20 main ones, and within those 20 there are re­ally prob­a­bly five types of sea­weed that, from an ev­ery­day point of view, peo­ple would want to use and be­come fa­mil­iar with. Those are bull kelp, blad­der kelp, karengo – which is a na­tive red sea­weed – sea let­tuce, a very us­able sea­weed as well, and wakame.”

Wakame Also known as Asian kelp

This was ac­ci­den­tally in­tro­duced into New Zealand from Ja­pan. It came into Welling­ton Har­bour as a stow­away on the hulls of ships in the late 1980s and since then has colonised around the coun­try.

“At two months of age it can re­lease mil­lions of spores into the sea,” writes Maggy Was­sili­eff in Te Ara - the En­cy­clo­pe­dia of New Zealand. “Ger­mi­nat­ing spores will colonise any firm sur­face – ropes, buoys, ves­sel hulls, float­ing plas­tic as well as rocky reefs – and grow rapidly, dis­plac­ing na­tive sea­weeds.” It was seen as an in­va­sive pest. “That is, up un­til 10 years ago,” says Pe­ter. “MPI (Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­tries) has come around to the fact that it is here, and it is now used com­mer­cially in New Zealand. There are sev­eral com­pa­nies that now har­vest wakame for hu­man use in New Zealand.”

Blad­der kelp

One of the most tasty and ver­sa­tile sea­weeds is blad­der kelp. It’s found through­out New Zealand, but it’s more com­mon south of Welling­ton.

“It has quite a salty flavour and when dried and crushed makes a top sea­weed sprin­kle that can be used as a healthy sub­sti­tute for salt but with a more com­plex flavour,” says Pe­ter. “It would be good to grind down into a pow­der to make a sea­son­ing – smoke it first with manuka to in­fuse some more flavour, and roast­ing will en­hance flavour too.”

Sea let­tuce

There is no com­mer­cial take of sea let­tuce in New Zealand be­cause many of the es­tu­ar­ies and har­bours where sea let­tuce oc­curs are too pol­luted for MPI to al­low for har­vest­ing.

Pe­ter does har­vest sea let­tuce for his own use, but he goes to the more re­mote bays of Banks Penin­sula, and only takes small amounts from the in­ter­tidal area.

“We are lucky in New Zealand in that we have one of the high­est sea­weed di­ver­si­ties in the world. The po­ten­tial to ex­pand sea­weed use here is mas­sive. But when peo­ple do it them­selves recre­ation­ally they can ex­pe­ri­ence a lot more diver­sity that at this stage is not com­mer­cially avail­able.”

Wakame was orig­i­nally seen as a pest sea­weed, but is now har­vested com­mer­cially

How to use sea­weed

Sea­weed is on the menu at Am­is­field Vine­yard & Bistro, but the catch is lim­ited.

“We do try to use sea­weeds as much as we can but the com­mer­cial re­stric­tions on sea­weed use in New Zealand are re­ally tight, so we are quite lim­ited in what we can do,” says Pe­ter.

Bull kelp and some of the larger brown sea­weeds can be used as a wrap for meats that are cooked on the bar­be­cue or in a pan.

“We cook but­ter­fish in­side a kelp bag and serve it in a small bull kelp par­cel. That’s a tra­di­tional Maori way of cook­ing food, ba­si­cally use bull kelp as an oven bag, and it re­ally keeps the flavour. The com­mer­cial fish­er­man we use has a small quota for south­ern bull kelp.”

Sea­weeds are rich in the umami flavour pro­file. When dried, a white pow­der of­ten forms on the sur­face. That’s not crys­tallised salt as most peo­ple sus­pect, says Pe­ter.

“It’s ac­tu­ally umami that’s dried on the outer side of the sea­weed. It’s re­ally good for adding that sour-sweet flavour pro­file to dishes.

“You can even do things like sea­weed sauer­kraut, es­pe­cially with wakame.”

If you want to try mak­ing your own no­ri­like sheets for sushi, try it with karengo, the clos­est we have to nori in New Zealand.

Why you can har­vest kelp

There are no lim­its for the av­er­age per­son who wants to har­vest sea­weed for per­sonal use. Recre­ation­ally, the rules are pretty lib­eral says Pe­ter.

“There are a few re­gional re­stric­tions. Like for the Kaik­oura coast­line there is a to­tal ban on sea­weed har­vest­ing just be­cause they are let­ting the ecosys­tem re­cover af­ter the earth­quakes. Marine re­serves you can’t take sea­weeds from. Mataitai and ta­ia­pure Maori re­serves as well, there are re­stric­tions on sea­weeds. But over­all in New Zealand there’s no re­stric­tion on sea­weed har­vest­ing recre­ation­ally.”

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