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Sea kelp (Kombu or Haidai): a healthy Chinese ingredient

Hai dai or kelp

I don’t really know how to call Hai dai in English. According to Wikipedia, in Japanese it is called Kombu or dashima, in English it is apparently called Laminariaceae, or kelp. In Chinese, Hai dai literally means sea’s belt, because of its shape. :)

Hai dai is a sea plant; in fact, in Chinese it is also called “Hai cao” as in Sea grass. It grows in the shallow part of the sea, and its shape resembles a long belt. It is said that some of them can be 7 meters long.

Uses of Kelp in Chinese cooking and Chinese medicine

In Chinese cuisine, the use of all kinds of seafood and sea plants is very common (an example is the ‘famous’ jelly fish salad). Sea food and sea plants are normally considered very healthy: they provide many nutrients that cannot be normally obtained elsewhere. :) The legend says that one of the reasons why many monks in Japan live a very long life is because of the many properties of sea kelp (they also eat a lot of tofu with this sea kelp). :)

True or not, the many benefits of seaweed are real. This kind of seaweed/kombu is best known for its richness in Iodine, which plays an essential role for thyroid balance; and calcium, needless to say its importance in the body. Sea kelp also contains dietary fiber, unsaturated fatty acids and glial, all these together can help with cleansing cholesterol, and stimulating stomach and bowel movement.

In the famous Chinese book “Yin shi ben cao’, kelp is described as a powerful anti-expectorant, and it is also supposed to act against potential tumors, cool down the body heat, and help lowering blood pressure. It is known to be particularly good for people suffering from (hypo)thyroidism, over-weight problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, constipation…etc.

Kelp, however, is categorized as a ‘cold’ food in Chinese medicine, so it should be taken carefully if you have ‘cold’ stomach problems :) (it is a Chinese medical term, which basically describes the stomachache triggered by either cold weather or cold food. And in general, the intake of kelp needs to be carefully measured, as too much kelp could cause (hyper)thyroidism, which is a concern during pregnancy and breast feeding.

Sea kelp can be found in many Chinese, Korean, Japanese shops, it is normally sold dry and fairly cheap, it needs to be soaked it at home first, after soaking, it comes back as fresh and soft again. Actually even if you get the fresh ones, soaking and washing them properly is still very necessary due to potential problems related to sea pollution. Normally it is recommended to soak it for 5 or 6 hours before making it into dishes in order to get rid of the ‘arsenic’ that may be dissolved in sea water. I also boil it to make sure it is completely clean.

In modern Chinese Shi liao, kelp salad, kelp congee, stir fried kelp with meat, or tofu, kelp soup are all recommended. I have one kelp salad recipe posted already, the rest, I will write here as I am cooking them. :)

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