6 Types of Seaweed to Know and Love

6 Types of Seaweed to Know and Love

If you've already got a pantry full of dried ocean greens you know: Seaweed is a powerhouse. Depending on the variety you're working with, the ingredient can be a flavor enhancer, textural marvel, or both, making it a versatile and shelf-stable kitchen MVP. So many dishes rely on the savory, specific taste of seaweed to succeed; harnessing its strengths in your home kitchen is a gateway to better cooking.

Seaweed is a broad term, encapsulating all edible saltwater plants and algae. Some varieties look like the long stalks of kelp you've seen washed up on the beach, while others more closely resemble heads of lettuce, leafy bushes, or even thick grasses. Seaweed used for culinary purposes is harvested from the ocean and dried immediately, to be packaged at its peak. The result is a pouch of crisp, firm shards that loosen and soften into tender, saline bites when rehydrated in warm water.

As with any pantry staple, there are a few tricks to shopping for and successfully storing dried seaweed—nail them, and you'll be rewarded with countless flavorful meals with the unique, nutrient-rich ingredient at their center. Read on for a primer, as well as an outline of the six types of seaweed we love to cook with most, plus lots of ideas for putting them to use.

Each variety of seaweed (more on a few of our favorites below) has its own optimum visual and textural characteristics to look out for while shopping. Nori, for example, should be vibrantly colored and not splotchy or powdery. Kombu, on the other hand, is often coated in a white powder when purchased, which is totally fine—it's the savory-flavor-giving glutamic acid in the ingredient appearing on the surface, and it can be wiped off before use.

There are some overarching things to consider when buying any type of dried seaweed. Make sure that the product is crisp and dry, with no signs of moisture in the bag or spongey or soft spots on the seaweed itself. It should not be overly crumbly or gray in color. And the container should be well-sealed, with no way for air to enter. These factors will ensure you're getting flavorful seaweed that will last in your pantry until you're ready to use it.

Like many pantry staples, dried seaweed needs a cool, dark, dry place to call home. Depending on the type you're using, seaweed can last between a few weeks (thin and crisp varieties, like nori) and a few years (sturdy varieties, like kombu) at room temperature after you open it, so long as it's properly stored.

The clock on a package of dried seaweed starts the second you let air in; any added moisture will make it go stale faster, so humid climates and non-air-tight containers are the enemy. If your seaweed came with a silica gel packet, move that to the zip-top bag or resealable container you plan to store your seaweed in, as it will help keep things dry on the inside. Also, if you have space in your fridge or freezer, you can store your leftover dried seaweed there instead to prolong its life—up to six months for nori and basically forever for kombu. Just be sure to let the product come completely to room temperature on your countertop before you open the container to keep all additional moisture at bay.

Nori is commonly available in thin, crisp sheets—the kind you'd find wrapped around a sushi roll or cut into smaller squares in a snack pack. It's dark green and smooth, with a mild, slightly nutty flavor. Nori sheets are made using a similar technique as paper, where shredded pulp is pressed together and dried on racks. It's one of the simplest varieties of dried seaweed to work with because it doesn't require rehydration before use. Nori is good to go straight from the bag, but even as little as a wave in front of a burner to crisp it can add a ton of flavor wherever it's deployed.

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