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Savouring the Deep

Savouring the Deep
From exotic Japanese specimens to foraged goodies from the rugged coasts of Ireland, sea vegetables are nutritious, delicious, and thoroughly overlooked. Food Tripper dives in to discover more.
As tales of the plight of various marine species continue to make headlines, with chefs all over Britain wading into the debate, it's easy to overlook the fact that seafood isn't the only fish in the sea. The rich ecosystem also supports a plethora of sea vegetables- nutritional powerhouses rapidly making their way onto plates in the world's finest restaurants.
Sea vegetables are amongst the most ancient vegetation, and are a feast for foragers, available in bountiful quantities for those wise enough to know where to look. Their distinctive, ozone-rich flavours belie the wealth of nutrients within, also serving to complement everything from pollack to potatoes.
The plants are already creeping into the daily diet of many of us- from Japanese varieties like nori, kombu and wakame in the lunchtime miso and sushi, to agar agar or carageenan setting a post-dinner creme caramel. You might find them blended into smoothies, or proudly announcing their presence in a super food salad.
The beauty of these sea-dwelling species  is their sustainability, with plants renewing themselves annually. As they are supplied dried, the nutrients are both preserved and concentrated, rendering them a fantastic source of protein, iron, and many of the trace elements often difficult to obtain through a typical diet.
Sea vegetables are also a great talking point. Coming in strange shapes and a rainbow of natural hues, they display a strange beauty and more than a hint of the otherworldly. From long strands of sea spaghetti to the ruddy-toned dulse, these vegetables are as intriguing to the eye as the palate.
Flavour-wise, sea vegetables exert themselves in a dish. Indispensable in Japanese dashi stock, it's that earthy, salty savour which underpins their taste. Milder varieties include dulse, as happy in salads as breads and even sausages, whilst nori and kombu boast strong tastes and almost meaty textures. Sea spaghetti, meanwhile, has been likened to cuttlefish- perfect, perhaps, to underscore the flavour in a dish of the fish and its ink.
The versatility and diversity of sea vegetables has not gone unnoticed by chefs. At L'Enclume, one can dine on Simon Rogan's Sea buckthorn mousse with Cumbrian ale, and two-Michelin starred Andrew Fairlie uses a mixture in a scallop dish at Gleneagles. Rene Redzepi, chef at the Denmark's - and the world's- best restaurant Noma, is a big fan and ostensibly a pioneer, using the vegetables in incredibly innovative ways.
Good for the earth, palate and body, it seems only sensible to increase our consumption of sea vegetables.
Restaurant trends indicate they'll be cropping up more and more on menus, and the approaching summer holidays mean keen foodtrippers will have the chance to make their own discoveries. Whether foraging on a beach in Ireland or slurping up soup at a Japanese market, seek them out- you'll be pleasantly surprised.
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1 May 2015
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