Travel

Seaweed common names: Kombu

There are many names for commonly consumed seaweeds. However, the species they refer to vary by region and culture. We will cover some of the most commonly used names for seaweeds, and review the differences between connotation and denotation. This series will review some of the most common common-names in use.

Previous posts include: Nori, Wakame, Laver


Kombu is a common name for seaweeds that typically belong to the group of brown seaweeds: Laminariaceae. Kombu is traditionally used for soup stocks, salads, and even fertilizer. Brown seaweeds are high in minerals and by adding them dishes one can improve the nutritional value of their food.

The word kombu is Japanese, but it’s thought to be borrowed from the Chinese. In old Japanese the word for seaweed was “me” as in “waka-me”. The predominant theory, is that kombu is derived from the Chinese word 昆布 kūnbù, which is traced back to the 3rd century in China. However, records from the 8th century are spotty at best in their descriptions of kūnbù, and it is impossible to know what species of seaweeds they were referring to.

Nowadays there are modifiers to separate the different species of kombu. (Borrowed from Wikipedia).

However, in other parts of the world the term kombu is used to describe other species of brown algae such as Saccharina or Laminaria. For example, the company Salt Point Seaweed calls Laminaria setchellii, California kombu.

Seaweed common names: Laver

There are many names for commonly consumed seaweeds. However, the species they refer to vary by region and culture. We will cover some of the most commonly used names for seaweeds, and review the differences between connotation and denotation. This series will review some of the most common common-names in use.

Previous posts include: Nori, Wakame


Laver

Laver, Latin for water plant, was adopted by the English some time in the 16th century. In Wales a popular dish was known as laverbread or bara lawr. To make laverbread, thin sheet like algae were collected from the rocky shores, boiled, pureed, then mixed with oats and fried. It was this popular dish that gave laver its current meaning: thin sheet like algae.

Today laver is liberally used to define edible seaweeds, but more specifically thin algae. Color adjectives became common to separate types of laver, green laver (Ulva sp.), purple laver (Pyropia sp. or Porphyra sp.).

Laver in the marketplace is considered a synonym of zicai (Chinese: 紫菜; pinyinZǐcài) in China, nori (海苔) in Japan, and gim (김) in Korea.

Seaweed common names: Wakame

There are many names for commonly consumed seaweeds. However, the species they refer to vary by region and culture. We will cover some of the most commonly used names for seaweeds, and review the differences between connotation and denotation. This series will review some of the most common common-names in use.

Previous posts include: Nori


Wakame

Wakame is another edible seaweed popularized by the Japanese. You are probably familiar with wakame in the form of seaweed salad or as the little green strips within your miso soup.

ワカメ pronounced wakame, translates to seaweed, but in modern Japanese dictionaries directly refers to a specific species, Undaria pinnatifida.

Undaria pinnatifida is a brown seaweed (kelp) that grows substantially along rocky temperate coasts. The Latin root is Unda = wavy, and Pinna = pinnately cleft. Wakame in Japanese is derived from waka + me (若布, lit. young seaweed).

As early as the 8th century wakame was known to be harvested off the coast of Japan, China, and Korea. Undaria pinnatifida has since then spread to various regions of the world and has been added to the list of 100 most invasive species. Most recently Undaria pinnatifida crossed the pacific ocean again on debris carried from the 2011 tsunami.

Wakame is typically harvested, dried or blanched, and then sold. Upon purchase the wakame is then re-hydrated by soaking in water or soups.

While in the USA we are more familiar with the term wakame, other cultures call Undaria pinnatifida by other names: Qun dai cai (Chinese), Miyeouk (Korean), or sea mustard (English).

Today many foragers refer to other species as wakame. On the north coast some species of Alaria are being labeled as wakame as there is no native Undaria.

Stressed out? Take a relaxing seaweed bath.

When people get overworked or stressed out, there is hardly a better cure than a spa day. In the USA we are all too familiar with the famous mud-bath treatment, but have you heard about seaweed baths?

In Ireland, seaweed baths have been around for hundreds of years. The monks during the 12th century realized that heating water and seaweed released their “healing” alginates. How exactly these monks determined healing properties of seaweed sugars is unclear. The current literature however, does show alginates are excellent for wound healing. Alginate dressings in the dry form absorb wound fluid to re-gel, and the gels then can supply water to a dry wound, maintaining a physiologically moist microenvironment and minimizing bacterial infection at the wound site.

You can still go to Ireland spa retreats and enjoy various seaweed baths. One traveler describes their experience at Voya Seaweed Baths.

Want to try a seaweed bath? You’re in luck! There are a number of spas offering the seaweed treatment (google away). If you can’t shell out the cash for a spa day, we found a company that sells seaweed bath products.