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What Is Kelp and How Can You Add it to Your Diet?

13 March 2023

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The lone exposure many people have to seaweed is on vacation at the beach. Whether it’s floating in the ocean or spoiling pristine white beaches, cooking or eating this slimy marine algae is usually an afterthought. 

But many types of seaweed, such as kelp, are edible and have been referred to as superfoods of the ocean due to their beneficial nutrients. This blog will help educate you on kelp and teach you how to add it to the foods you cook at home.

What is kelp?

Kelp is a large brown seaweed (also called marine algae) that grows mainly in underwater kelp forests on the Pacific Coast, both near North America and South America. 

Unlike plants that receive their nutrients from root structures, kelp absorbs vitamins and minerals from its surroundings – it is a good source of iodine, potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, vitamin K, B vitamins, iron, zinc and omega 3 fatty acids. The leaves of kelp are called blades and the stem is called the stipe. Kelp also have air bladders attached to each blade to float in the water.

Depending on the species, some kelp can grow rapidly (giant kelp grows 1 to 2 feet per day) and be as big as 150 feet long. Kelp only needs sunlight and cool water to mature.

Brown seaweed, such as kelp, contains alginic acid to help keep it flexible in the ocean. Before kelp became a food source, food manufacturers extracted the algin to use as an emulsifying, bonding and thickening agent in foods. Common examples of alginic acid in food products include salad dressings, pudding, cake and frozen foods. Alginic acid is also used in toothpastes and shampoos.

Nowadays, kelp is eaten raw or cooked in sushi, sauces, salads and other prepackaged products. Some people even prefer it ground into a powder and use it in place of salt.

Types of kelp

There are more than two dozen varieties of kelp that grow across the world. Bull kelp, kombu and giant kelp are three of the most common types.

  • Bull Kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana)
  • Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera)
  • Sea palm (Postelsia palmaeformis)
  • Kombu (Laminaria setchellii)
  • Wakame (Alaria marginata)
  • Sea Cabbage (Saccharina sessilis)
  • Bladder Chain Kelp (Stephanocystis osmundacea)
  • Feather Boa Kelp (Egregia menziesii)
  • Winged kelp (Alaria esculenta)

Is dried kelp the same as seaweed?

Many people wonder if kelp and seaweed are the same. Kelp is a type of seaweed. There are thousands of different types of seaweed in the world. Seaweed is simply an umbrella term to describe any type of marine algae. 

Kelp nutritional information

A 100-gram serving of kelp (3.5 ounces) contains a good source of many key vitamins and minerals. The percentages listed are the recommended daily values as suggested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


  • Fat: 0.56 g
  • Calories: 43 kcal
  • Carbs: 9.7 g
  • Protein: 1.68 g
  • Fiber: 1.3 g
  • Vitamins
  • Vitamin K: 121 mg (55 percent DV)
  • Folate: 2.85 mg (45 percent DV)
  • Vitamin B5: 0.13 mg (12.8 percent DV)
  • Vitamin B2: 168 mg (11.5 percent DV)


  • Magnesium: 121 mg (28.8 percent DV)
  • Iron: 2.85 mg (15.8 percent DV)
  • Copper: 0.13 mg (14.4 percent DV)
  • Calcium: 168 mg (12.9 percent DV)
  • Zinc: 1.23 mg (11.2 percent DV)
  • Sodium: 233 mg (10.1 percent DV)
  • Manganese: 0.20 mg (8.7 percent DV)

Why is iodine important?

In general, seaweed is one of the best sources of iodine you can eat. A single 1-gram sheet can contain anywhere from 16 mcg/g to 2,984 mcg/g, which is as much as 1,900 percent of the recommended daily value. 

These numbers vary widely due to the type of seaweed and the environment in which it is grown. Brown seaweed, compared to red or green, tends to be higher in iodine. Iodine values in kelp can range from 1,500 to 2,000 mcg/g.

In the human body, Iodine is important to make thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). They regulate your metabolism, energy, body temperature and help with skin, hair and nail growth.

Eating foods high in iodine can help prevent hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid doesn’t make enough T3 and T4. Too much iodine can be a problem, though, as high iodine intakes are associated with thyroid inflammation and an increased risk of thyroid cancer. This may present a problem for people who eat seaweed daily and in large amounts, but it is less of a worry for people who consume it occasionally.

What does kelp taste like?

Umami, one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter, is the most pronounced flavor in kelp. Seaweed is high in glutamates, an amino acid produced by your body and found in foods that heighten the taste experience. Your tongue has specific umami receptors, and glutamates activate these receptors to give a savory flavor. Once kelp dries out, glutamate rises to the surface and creates a white powder.

Beyond the umami flavor, kelp has a salty taste since it grows in ocean water. It tends to be meaty but is also tougher and thicker than other seaweeds.

Dried kelp has a stronger, fishier flavor than fresh kelp because it’s in a concentrated form. From a texture standpoint, dried and rehydrated kelp is tougher compared to fresh kelp that is more tender and gelatinous.

How to eat and cook with kelp

Based on kelp’s visual appearance, you may not associate brown seaweed with versatility in the kitchen. But kelp can be added to many dishes and used in a variety of ways.

Kelp can be eaten fresh, dried, cooked, added to smoothies and sauces as a powder or served on food as dried granules. In Japan, dried kelp has been a staple in dashi broth, which is a combination of bonito flakes (dried, smoked tuna) and dried kelp. It also rehydrates well and can be added to soups and stir fries. As kelp has become more mainstream, it is slowly finding its way into more commercial products, such as kelp burgers and kelp jerky.

Since kelp comes from the ocean, cooking it fresh with similar ingredients is a good place to start. This means pairing it with seafood such as oysters or clams. Kelp is versatile, though. You can add it to your mirepoix (celery, onions, carrots) when roasting chicken or puree it and add it to smoothies, sauces or dressings.

Dried kelp, on the other hand, is usually best suited to add depth to dishes, such as in broths for soups.

Kelp noodles are one of the most recent creative commercial uses of this food. The thin, clear color of the noodles can throw you off since kelp is a brown seaweed.

The appearance comes from peeling the brownish outer layer of dried kelp. The inside, which is white, is then mixed with water and sodium alginate to form a dough-like mixture. Kelp noodles are similar to tofu in that they don’t taste like much. Instead, they take on the flavor of whichever dish they’re paired with.

Kelp noodles are crunchy and can be used directly out of the package to add texture to salads or stir fry's or as a finishing element to a dish. The noodles can also be rehydrated and used as a pasta substitute.

Kelp recipes

Try these three recipes at home to introduce kelp into your diet.

Wakame-cucumber salad

Wakame is a type of kelp that has a silky texture, making it ideal for simple dishes that allows the simplicity of kelp to shine through.

View Recipe

Spicy tahini kelp noodles

Kelp noodles work great at soaking up whatever sauce they’re paired with, and this sauce pairs peanut butter and tahini with garlic, ginger and soy for an umami punch.

(download recipe pdf)

Kelp lasagna

Traditional lasagna sheets are loaded with carbs, so using sheets of kelp noodles is a better option if you’re watching your health.

(download recipe pdf)


For more news on trending health topics and nutrition, visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.

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