Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) is also known as apron-ribbon vegetable, Asian kelp or Japanese kelp. It is a delicious seaweed native to Japan, China and Korea. It has been harvested in Japan for around 1,500 years and cultivated there since the 1950s.
In the mid 1990s, wakame turned up in British waters. It can be found in small amounts along the south coast in marinas, off pontoons and in estuaries.
In this blog I discuss how to identify wakame and where to find it. I share a video of it in and out of water, the benefits (and problems) with it and recipe ideas!
Where does wakame like to grow?
I found these samples of wakame with fellow MBA students in and around Plymouth. We were all fascinated by seawaeeds and were attending a 3-day course with the Marine Biological Association. Wakame arrived in the UK via the marine culture and shipping. This method also brought it to France, Belgium, Spain, USA, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.
Wakame thrives in cold water, preferring and reproducing at temperatures of 5-15°C and at up to 20°C. British sea waters are a perfect environment for it to grow, as it ranges from an average of 6-10°C in the winter and 15-20°C in the summer. It is a seaweed we could expect to see more of.
Wakame can also tolerate changes in salinity and therefore grows well in estuaries where seawater meets fresh water.
It grows in a variety of conditions and can form dense kelp forests. Here is an image of a single piece of it.
What does wakame look like?
Wakame is a member of the kelp family and has a similar look and thickness to Dabberlocks (Alaria esculenta) and Sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima).
Wakame has a ragged edge making it look like fingers or ribbons (see above). It grows up to 3 metres long and has a mid-rib or stem running through the middle of the seaweed, along its whole length.
Wakame is a yellowy-brown seaweed. It is a lot lighter in texture than many other kelps such a oarweed (Laminaria digitata) or forest kelp (Laminaria hyerborea).
The benefits of wakame seaweed
Wakame contains good amounts of; folate, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, B2, B3 and B5. It is a light seaweed that an be eaten raw. It is slightly sweet and can be used in similar ways to Alaria escunlenta.
Traditionally pieces of wakame are added to miso soup. In my Seaweed book I share recipes for a crab or carrot and ginger salad with alaria and a sauerkraut and kimchee recipe using it too. Wakame could easily replace alaria in these recipes.
For food lovers, this possibility of finding wakame locally is exciting, yet there is a bigger picture too. Wakame is listed as one of the top 100 worst invasive species. However sightings in the UK are still minimal.
If and when wakame increases and becomes an abundant or problematic seaweed here in British waters, there is an easy, ethical and healthy way to reduce it's presence. Forage it by hand and eat it!
Want to find out more about edible seaweeds?
I lead monthly seaweed foraging courses, offer private seaweed tuition, have lots more seaweed blogs and cover 5 seaweeds with recipes in my wild food foraging book and 16 seaweeds in my seaweed book. Happy foraging.
- Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland by Francis Baker, Juliet Brodie, Christine Maggs and Anne Bunker
- Seaweed Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly by Rachel Lambert
“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.”
Life’s an adventure isn’t it?!
And adventures can come in all shapes and sizes, from trying a new food to exploring a new place, to starting a family, a new relationship or a new career... Some like their adventures small, some big. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, I think.
For me, I’ve always loved to go to the edge, the edge of the cliff, the edge of the dance move, the edge of the water, the edge of what is comfortable and safe. As a very physical child some of those explorations ended in pain (the edge of the wall was not a happy ending), though most actually gave me a sense of exhilaration, or excitement and a dream of something more.
As I’ve grown older my aspirations have shifted from wanting to be a stunt woman (true), to learning how to take healthy risks, how to look after myself (and others) and how to weigh up whether I have the skills, strength and courage to go for something. Sometimes I do not, and admitting this also feels brave sometimes.
Learning about seaweeds has been an adventure for me, opening me to a whole new world to explore and one that gives me a smile of satisfaction at the end of the day. I also found the further I explored, and the more edges I went to, the jewels that I found were richer, more colourful and rewarding.
“…adventures don’t come calling like unexpected cousins calling from out of town. You have to go looking for them.”
I've played it safe till now, leading courses where seaweeds are accessible and easy to get to. You see, I want everyone to be able to learn about seaweeds. However, I also want to share some of these adventures and to really take you to the edges where you can experience a whole other level of seaweeding, and one I rarely get to share with others.
Seaweeds like Alaria Esculenta (Dabberlocks) and Sugar Kelp (Saccharina latissima), which like to be in deeper water and have more space. These feel like a special find, and the wonder of reaching these places akin to discovering a hidden beach and having it all to yourself.
If you have the desire to adventure further, to join me across the rocks, to the edge, this is what you may find, and so much more that neither you nor I can put words to, yet, or perhaps ever. Maybe it will come from an inner smile, and a sense of exhileration and satisfaction at the end of your day.
“The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.”
W. M. Lewis
Rachel Lambert leads seaweed foraging courses, please read the details for every course (or ask) to find out how challenging the venue is, I am also available for private forays, where I tailor an adventurous seaweeding experience just for you (tide and weather allowing) - for those who feel steady on their feet and want to climb, slide and step further out to explore the world of seaweeds. Courses are always timed with the tide and are only run when the conditions are safe, no unnecessary or ridiculous risks are taken, and safety and learning about the seaweeds and the sea is always paramount.
I'm standing on a rock at low tide, layers of organic matter below my feet, formed over billions of years. Beyond me is the great ocean herself, perhaps where we all came from and marking a time before our migration, along with (now) terrestrial plants, onto land.
Around me swells the seawater, not so different from the water contained in each of my body's cells. Somehow my sense of time, body and what I am made of is changing; I feel both young and old, connected and in wonder at my ancestry of rock, sea water and seaweeds.
Yes seaweeds, also so much older than this human form of yours and mine. Red seaweeds (that's another discussion of what constitutes a red seaweed, which I'm happy to have, another time) are thought to be the oldest of them all. Somewhere between 1.6 and 2 billion years old. Their structure, reproduction and variety are fascinating, though what interests me the most is their flavour.
And on the topic of seaweed flavour, I have an unanswered question.
Actually I have many, and a sketchbook of seaweed notes still to decipher. Though for now, I have one, little question:
How come the Red Seaweeds have the most Interesting, Multi-layered and Tantalizing Flavour?
(Baked Oysters, Pepper Dulse Seaweed and Lemon Butter - from my Seaweed Foraging Book)
I could speculate that the answer is because of red seaweed's structure, their both basic and complex form, and a form that comes with age. Though when I asked some of the UK’s best seaweed experts (people who have taught me and whom I deeply respect) they just shrugged their shoulders and answered ‘I don’t know’.
Despite their age and importance there is still so much we don’t know about seaweeds, and that in some ways, is part of their wonder. An unknown, underwater world that, here in the British Isles, reveals itself just twice a day to us.
I love standing by the water’s edge, on the boundary of this unknown world, there is still so much to learn and already so much to share.
On the theme of red seaweeds (there are also hundreds of species of green and brown ones to enjoy), their complex flavour means they are both compatible with a wide range of foods from quiche to lemony dressings, and also bring out ‘umami’, a flavour which heightens all other flavours. Simple things like bread, rice and potatoes become something inspired with a little bit of seaweed added.
Taste, colour, flavour and texture all make up the components of food that is an enjoyable part of our human experience, and that's without mentioning the vast nutritional benefits of seaweeds. Of course, the amounts you use and the combinations you create all constitute how enjoyable seaweeds are, and those details are important.
Here's more information on seaweed foraging courses and here's a link to the calendar dates for seaweed foraging courses to puruse, or book. Each beach has a different range of seaweeds and each season offers something different too.
I've been reading in this Saturday's Guardian how Thomasina Miers has been supping lots of soup so far this year, and I feel like saying 'me too', though not for the same reasons many women have validly and valiantly been saying this across continents.
Tommi Mier's restaurant chain Wahaca specialise in Mexican food, and while this isn't a Mexican dish, it is definitely inspired by the spicy punch that Mexican food often has. My me too is about supping soups. Soups that are warming, healthy and bring people together, especially on a cold March morning. It's been cold, too cold and soup is the perfect remedy, this one's got a chilli kick to get your inner fire going, if it isn't already by the outrageous scale of the #metoo movement and the injustices it highlights.
Back to the soup.
This soup using 3 locally foraged seaweeds;
- Kelp (Laminaria digitata)
- Sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima)
- Sea spaghetti or Thongweed (Himanthalia elongata)
These could also be substituted for a mixture of;
- any kelp seaweed (Dabberlocks, Oarweed, Furbelows, Wakame),
- any wrack seaweed (Bladder wrack, Serrated or Toothed, Spiralled)
- pepper dulse could also be used instead of black pepper for one layer of the 'kick'.
Oh, by the way, kelp is called kombu in Japan, and the basis of this soup is similar to a vegan version of dashi stock which combines kombu and shitake mushrooms (and omits bonito flakes which are fish).
There is lots, lots more I could say about seaweed, and soups, though here I'll keep it simple and just offer you this recipe.
(Soaking the seaweed and straining off the ingredients for making the broth)
Three Seaweed Soup
A warming broth which is so simple to make and is great on its own or can be used as a base for a noodle soup or more of a substantial soup, broth or stew.
- 12cm length of dried kelp (or 1/3 more if fresh)
- 12 cm length of dried sugar kelp (or 1/3 more if fresh)
- 10cm single length of sea spaghetti (or 1/3 more if fresh)
- 2 litres boiling water
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3cm chunk of ginger root, chopped
- Lots of freshly ground black pepper
- small handful of dried chanterelle mushrooms
- 1-1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
- soy sauce to taste
Cut all of the seaweeds into small pieces and place in a large pan. Add the boiling water, then all the rest of the ingredients, except the soy sauce. Place a lid on the pan and leave to simmer for 40 minutes. Place the mixture in a food processor and blend till the pieces are broken down, or strain if you prefer a clear broth. Add the soy sauce to taste. Serves 6 as a small bowl of soup, or 12 as a small starter/taster.
The finished Broth, before I ladle it into a hot food flask and take it to the beach to share with participants on a seaweed foraging course.