Post-Harvest Treatments, Value-Added Products, Proprietary Secrets

I do not rinse seaweeds in fresh water. That demineralizes them. I do not grind seaweeds into fine powders. That oxidizes them. Powder mills generally create high temperatures at the point where seaweeds go through the grinding apparatus. The owner of a powder mill is always tempted to create a “value-added” product by using cheap second-quality seaweeds. Sometimes the ingredients in the powders do not even match the ingredients list or the illustration on the label! “Kelp tablets” are one such common example. When I taste these powders, my first response is “Yuk!”

Some companies parboil seaweeds to tenderize them (Japanese wakame is often treated this way), and the nutrient-rich water is discarded. That’s a huge mistake! In this country, kelp is sometimes cooked, shredded, then frozen and sold to Whole Foods stores, so-called. This would be something like if I said to you, “Come have supper with me,” and when you arrived, I said, “Let’s go to the freezer. There are some vegetables that I strained out of the soup broth that I made six months ago that I want to thaw out for you to try…..” Does that make us hungry? Definitely not! Processes like these are often termed “proprietary secrets” and my response is that “When it comes to something as basic as everybody’s food and health, life’s too short for secrets.” Most of the time, when an entrepreneur comes up with a “value-added” food product, it means, in truth, that something of the original pure food has been removed or modified, and perhaps something harmful has been added.

Scroll around on Google and you will even find seaweed companies that brag about products that “hardly taste like the sea at all”! That type of refinement is NOT an improvement! I cannot improve seaweed by any post-harvest treatment. I want you to taste all there is to it, and then allow your nose and your intuition to guide you. All I can really offer, as a service to customers, is a checklist of what to look for when buying seaweeds. Look for the darkest colors you can find: minerals is pigments and pigments is minerals. Look for a smell that is fresh and strong at the same time. As a result of my careful hand selection, drying, and storage away from direct light, the seaweed will have at least two years of shelf life. It awaits your recipe.

One of the harmful additives that is now finding its way into our food is smoke and smoky flavorings. Restaurant menus offer countless versions of this. Some seaweeds have smoke added to them. My father’s cancer began as stomach cancer, and when I researched possible causes of this type of cancer, I discovered that there was a group of Scandinavian fishermen with a high rate of stomach cancer. They all ate a lot of smoked fish, and just as smoking can tar the lungs, smoked foods can also tar the stomach. Before my father developed stomach cancer, he had been going to Canada on fishing trips with his friends and coming home with cases of smoked salmon. I took a direction to avoid smoked and grilled foods as much as possible. Certainly I would not add smoke to seaweeds just to increase sales. (If the label says “apple wood smoked dulse”, remember that no apple tree comes with a tag describing its pesticide spray history; there’s no such thing as “unsprayed” unless the tree’s history is recorded each year.) My work is to offer the essences,¬†unaltered as possible, with nothing added, nothing subtracted.

By their very nature, seaweeds lend themselves to savory recipes. Hot water based recipes insure that iodine will be transferred to the body to protect and support the thyroid; anti-cancer compounds like fucoidan will also be most concentrated by hot water extraction. In other words, learn to make soup! The minerals in seaweed alkalinize the blood, creating a sense of greater well-being. (It’s counter-productive to create recipes like corn chips and sweet candies that tend to acidify the blood, then add little dashes of second-rate seaweed bits & powders to them and call them “health foods”. This is not “value added”. Rather, it is value subtracted. It is confusion, loss of clarity. There’s plenty of real work to do in the world. These “value-added” products are the sort of make-work projects that make me swear!)

One day when I was talking to Nina about this, I invented Joe, the talking crow, and because he can’t say or use a “crow house”, I built him a high platform with a roof, called a “crow manor,” and I taught him to say the word “caw manor”. But the interesting thing is that the phonemes of “caw manor”, given the proper context and inflection, can morph in meaning from “caw manor” to “common ore” (as in “I thought you were offering me a golden gem of wisdom, but now I see that it’s just common ore”) or “cow manure” as in “If you think I’m going to eat precooked frozen devitalized seaweed, it’s just…..” (you guessed it ). And the meanings continue to morph through “commoner” vs. aristocrat, finally coming to “common oar” and “common whore”…….a term that Joe the talking crow reserves for the scientist who is in the back pocket of industry, advocating for cutting rockweed at 16 inches with a razor rake’s guard set at 5 inches! That’s a recipe for the destruction of all that we hold dear about the ocean. The canopy habitat of rockweed normally grows to six feet in height/depth where I live. When she reads this, I guarantee that Joe the talking crow will be saying that “there’s just no calmin’ her”……one of the final morphs of meaning in that phoneme. Suffice to say, my swearing gets creative when I’m agitated by people with “caw-manners”—politicians who mindlessly caw phrases like “Value-added products will grow the economy and create more jobs for all.” Ever read Dilbert? That phrase would come from the pointy-haired boss. But keep reading, Cappy. The nature of real seaweed work for us commoners with a kitchen garden and access to the shore will soon become clear.