Oarweed is a large brown algae that is found growing in the North Atlantic ocean, in shallow areas where sunlight reaches the ocean floor. It’s distinctive fronds gave it its Latin name – digitata coming from digitus, meaning ‘finger’. Each frond is segmented into between 3 and 8 finger-like blades, which sprout from a thin yet dense stem which can be seen standing proud from the water’s surface during low tide. Each frond segment (or ‘finger’) can grow up to two metres long in the right conditions, and they are thick, glossy and yellow-brown in colour.
Found growing as far north as arctic Norway, as far south as Brittany, and on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Oarweed has been successfully cultivated by humans and is farmed extensively. Plants live between 4 and 6 years on average, and is harvested during the spring and early summer seasons.
Oarweed has a hearty mineral flavour. It makes an excellent base for nutritional, savoury broths and soups with a rich umami taste. It is naturally high in iodine, but the iodine content can be reduced by up to 90% by blanching before use. Oarweed is used extensively in Asian cuisines to make the soup stock dashi. It makes a satisfying vegetarian ‘bone broth’ in a fraction of the time it takes to produce a traditional bone broth, which can be used as a base for all sorts of dishes. The texture of oarweed is firm and robust, which makes it perfect for pickling and fermenting.
Oarweed is a great digestive aid, and if you add a piece to the water when soaking or cooking dried beans and lentils, it will reduce the overall cooking time, add flavour, and improve their digestibility. The thick, smooth and wide blades of oarweed are perfect for wrapping and steaming meat and fish. It imparts some of its natural flavour during this process, whilst preserving the tenderness of the meat or fish. In its powdered form, oarweed makes a great natural stabiliser, and can be used to thicken and emulsify sauces, drinks jellies and ice cream!
The presence of alginic acid, algin and fucoxanthin also make oarweed a prized crop in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. It’s commonly used as an ingredient in slimming aids and indigestion remedies, as well as in the manufacture of paper, textiles, and water-proofing materials.
The exact nutritional content of seaweed depends on the season in which it was harvested, as well as its location. Seaweed is highly effective at absorbing trace minerals from its surroundings, which is why it’s important to source your edible seaweed from places where you know the water quality to be high. You can read more about where we harvest our seaweed here.
Start simple by adding a piece of dried oarweed to your lentils when making this dal curry for improved flavour and digestibility. Next, try our simple dashi recipe for a rich and complex broth in just 30 minutes. If you’re feeling adventurous, try pickling oarweed with chilli and ginger!