Kelp Noodle 101: How to Prepare and Serve Kelp Noodles
Since posting my smashed avocado, kelp noodle, and lemon bowl last week, I’ve had a number of questions about kelp noodles. What the heck are they? Where do you find them? What do they taste like? Are they similar to regular noodles? So I figured it was time for a little primer. Hopefully it’ll help you all to get acquainted with this fun ingredient!
So, what are kelp noodles? They are clear, thin noodles made from kelp, a kind of brown seaweed that is notable for its high iodine content. They are not “noodles” at all, and they don’t taste or feel anything like brown rice, quinoa, or wheat pasta. But they do have the same look of pasta, and you can use a lot of the same preparation methods with them that you might otherwise use in noodle dishes. They taste great with pesto, cashew alfredo, raw marinara, or any other wide variety of sauces. And the ingredient list is simple: kelp, sodium alginate (a form of salt), and water.
Question number two: Are they really raw? I don’t honestly know. I’ve heard plenty of rumors that kelp noodles are actually heated in the preparation process. While this is certainly no deterrent to me—as all of you know, I’m no purist about the raw vs. cooked dichotomy (more thoughts here), so I’m happy to enjoy these noodles simply because they are mineral rich, fun to work with, great to serve to friends who have food sensitivities, and versatile. If you are a strict raw foodist, do some research and make an informed choice.
If you want to purchase kelp noodles in person, you’ll have to check out your local resources. In NYC, they can be found at High Vibe on 3rd street, and I’m guessing Organic Avenue probably carries them, too. In the DC area, you can find them at Roots Market in Clarksville, MD. Ask around, and if your local health food store doesn’t carry them, you may be able to put in a request!
So, what do kelp noodles taste like? I think they taste basically neutral. They’re a little crunchy—especially if you eat them right after preparing them—and they might taste slightly salty if you haven’t rinsed them well, which I recommend doing. This brings me to my next question: how do I prepare kelp noodles?
I prepare kelp noodles in all sorts of ways. I’ve served them with pesto, marinara sauce, “cheesy” sauces of all kinds, in salads, and in soups. Right now, I’m going through a kelp noodle salad phase. So why don’t I give you my basic prep tips, and then share a recipe for a tremendously tasty kelp noodle salad bowl I enjoyed yesterday?
1. To start, open your bag of kelp noodles and rinse them well. I like to submerge my kelp noodles in warm water for about ten minutes. This rinses off the slightly salty liquid they’re packaged with, and it also softens and separates them.
2. If you serve kelp noodles just as they are, you’re likely to find that the noodles are super long and therefore a little hard to eat! So I like to cut mine with a kitchen scissor to break them up into easily chewable strands:
3. To make my favorite kelp noodle salad, add a nice heaping portion of greens. I like shredded kale and mesclun greens.
4. I love adding about a third of a cup of sauerkraut or lacto-fermented veggies. This adds salty flavor, plus a nice dose of healthy, gut-friendly bacteria to the dish. What you see in the photo below is a homemade mix of fermented carrots, beets, and cabbage, which I’d love to tell you all how to make at home. But that is another tutorial for another day soon!
5. Add half of a large Haas avocado, or a whole small one. Squeeze the juice of one lemon on top of the salad, and get massaging with your hands.
In the end, you’ll have a mineral-rich, delicious, and colorful bowl. Feel free to season this dish to taste: the fermented veggies made mine plenty salty, but if you don’t use them, a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper or Herbamare will bring out the flavors. As would fresh herbs (dill, basil, oregano, rosemary, whatever), sundried tomatoes, roasted red pepper—the possibilities abound! Look how delicious the finished bowl is:
Creamy, salty, nourishing, and colorful:
To “round out” the meal, I’d also have some garbanzo beans tossed in a drizzle of hemp oil, or a cup of soup, or some raw crackers. Yum.
Finally, one of my readers inquired about the iodine content in kelp noodles. Though adequate iodine is essential for healthy thyroid function, excessive iodine has been shown to have negative impact on thyroid health as well. Michael Greger, M.D., has suggested that the iodine content is too high for kelp noodles to be consumed at all, and recently mentioned a study in which one vegan had excessive iodine levels. Of course, we don’t know how often the person mentioned had been consuming kelp; it could well have been daily. My feeling is that it’s probably fine to consume kelp in moderation (and if kelp noodles are your source, this is likely, because they are not cheap). It is, after all, an indigenous part of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cuisines. Kombu, a particular form of kelp, is used in dashi (a kind of broth in Japanese cuisine), as a garnish, and often in cooking legumes, in addition to numerous other uses. Were even moderate amounts hazardous, I wonder how this could be possible. Ginny Messina and Jack Norris, whom I trust with all things nutrition related, recommend no more than 3-4 servings of sea vegetables per week in order to ensure that one isn’t taking in too much iodine. Naturally, if you have any kind of health condition that warrants special moderation, this may be too much for you, but it’s a good rule of thumb otherwise.
So there you have it! Kelp noodles in a nutshell. I hope you’ll all enjoy getting acquainted with them. If you need some recipe inspiration, here are some of my fave kelp noodle recipes: