Types of Sea Vegetables
Most sea vegetables are salt-water tolerant, land-dependent plants that grow at the connection point between land and sea. They need to be attached to something so they can receive sufficient sunlight to grow.
Nori is the paper-thin black wrapping on sushi rolls. It is hand-harvested, washed, chopped, and spread on bamboo mats to dry into paper-thin layers. Higher quality nori is a darker purplish black color, and lower quality has a green tint. Used as a wrap in sushi or rice balls, nori is made of dried, pressed layers that are ready to eat.
Nori can be toasted and included in bentos or on-the-go meals. Sprinkle small pieces on grain cereals or blend in purees. If used as a condiment or finger food, make sure that toasted nori is cut into small pieces, and that it is wet when served to your baby so he can swallow it easily, and so it will not stick to the roof of his mouth.
Wakame is an olive-green-colored sea vegetable, and when it is wet, it has the slimy texture that you find when you come across seaweed in the ocean. You can cut wakame flakes into small pieces for cooking to curtail the vegetable’s naturally slippery texture. Your baby will enjoy wakame cooked in soups or combined with other vegetables as a side dish. You can also toss the flakes on salads for older children.
Kombu is a gray, dried sea vegetable that either needs to be soaked or added to a liquid, and then cooked. It has natural glutamates, or umami, which enhance flavor while adding minerals. Kombu can be used as a seasoning for soup stock, grains, beans, and root or ground vegetables.
Cooking grains and beans with a small piece of kombu aids in their digestion and reduces cooking time. You can cut kombu into one-inch strips and add it to almost any dish. Be sure to remove the kombu before serving, or cut it into tiny pieces to mix in with other ingredients. Powdered kombu is also available, which can be used in cooking instead of salt.
Agar (also called agar-agar) is a vegetarian gelatin that offers an alternative to commercial gelatin that is extracted from cattle, horses, or swine collagen. It comes in a bar, powder, or flakes, and needs to be dissolved in hot liquid, after which it will gelatinize without refrigeration. It does not have a taste, odor, or color of its own.
Agar can be used to make vegetable aspics (savory gelatin), pie fillings, puddings, and gelatin-based desserts with pureed or chunked fruits. This makes a light, nourishing, and digestible dessert for your baby or toddler. Serve cool in warm weather and at room temperature in other seasons.