Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Hodgepodge 199/365 - Wakame

This evening we had sushi for dinner, and as an appetizer we ordered wakame (ワカメ), or seaweed salad. David asked if we have that alga hereabouts. I didn't know, so I've done a little research. My initial impression was that no, we do not have wakame on the eastern shores of the Pacific. It is native to the Japan Sea and the northwest Pacific coasts of Japan, Korea, and Russia.  

Ah, but the plot thickens, as I discovered in a 2004 paper titled "Population Ecology of the Invasive Kelp Undaria pinnatifida in California: Environmental and Biological Controls on Demography." Note the word "invasive": as it turns out, this is the only truly invasive kelp, due to a little resetting of the typical brown kelp's life cycle that gives this seaweed a propitiously timed dormant stage. It arrived in Tasmania in the 1980s; it also infests the coastal waters of New Zealand and Argentina."The likely means of these accidental introductions," according to the website Eat the Invaders (Fighting Invasive Species, One Bite at a Time), "are farmed shellfish imported from Asia, or ballast-water or fouling organisms discharged by international cargo-ships coming from the Far East. [U. pinnatifida] was deliberately introduced in Brittany as a crop in 1983, and then spread to Spain, the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Wakame has been nominated one of the 100 worst invasive species on the Global Invasive Species Database." The only alga on the list, I might add.

A progression from new recruits to
young adults, from Monterey Harbor.
In California, where it arrived in 2000, U. pinnatifida is generally kept in check by perennial native kelps, so it hasn't become a nuisance. In Mendocino County, a couple of small seaweed-collecting operations harvest it commercially.

In Japan, the kelp has been grown commercially since the 1950s, and today it yields up to 120,000 tonnes, with the harvest occurring from February to June, though it is available dried year-round. (I suspect it is generally consumed in its dried form, but here is an account of harvest tours and consumption of the blanched seaweed fresh.) China and Korea also cultivate the seaweed, as demand continues to increase.

I found a recipe for making wakame salad at home. It looks pretty simple. Then again, our excellent sushi place is just down the street. That's even simpler. And you get all sorts of succulent sushi to boot.

Seaweed Salad

(ready in 10 minutes; serves 4)

3/4 oz. dried wakame seaweed (whole or cut)
3 Tb rice vinegar (not seasoned)
3 Tb soy sauce
1 Tb sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
red pepper flakes
1 tsp finely grated ginger
1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup shredded carrot
2 Tb chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tb sesame seeds, toasted

Soak seaweed in warm water to cover, 5 minutes. Drain, rinse then squeeze out excess water. If wakame is uncut, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips.

Stir together vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, pepper flakes, ginger, and garlic in a bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add the seaweed, scallions, carrots, and cilantro, tossing to combine well. Sprinkle salad with sesame seeds.

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