Marcus Im, co-owner of Onggi, a shop on Washington Street in Portland that sells fermented foods, eats miyeok gook (sometimes spelled miyeokguk) every year on his birthday.

“‘Miyeok’ is a type of dried seaweed. ‘Gook/guk’ means soup. You eat it on your birthday to honor Mom for her hard work in giving birth and raising you,” says Im, who was born into a Korean American family in northern California 30-odd years ago.

Korean mothers eat this traditionally beef-based soup for several weeks after giving birth because the thin, delicate seaweed, more commonly known by its Japanese name, “wakame,” contains nutrients that help with postpartum recovery and breast milk production. Miyeok/Wakame has a subtle aroma, a delicate briny flavor and a “silky, slippery, soft texture that feels wonderful in your mouth,” the New York City-based, Michelin-starred chef Hooni Kim wrote in “My Korea: Traditional Flavors, Modern Recipes.”

Kim uses it to make seaweed sashimi: rehydrated miyeok, which he tops with cho-jang, a tangy Korean condiment used for hwe, which are Korean raw fish dishes. “… even though it doesn’t contain any fish, you can still taste the mild flavor of the sea,” he writes.

Im’s recipe for miyeok gook (aka “birthday soup”) involves sautéing thinly sliced seasoned beef and minced garlic in sesame oil. He adds dashi – a seaweed-based broth – or dried anchovy broth. When the broth is warm, he throws in a handful of wakame. Im lets the soup simmer for 15 minutes and then eats it with a bowl of rice.

Both wild-harvested and farmed seaweed are good for you because they contain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, C and K, iron, calcium, magnesium and dietary fiber. Often referred to as “superfood,” seaweed has long been a darling of the health food, vegan and paleo sectors of the American food industry.


Seaweed is also good for the ocean because it offers ecosystem services to the environment in which it lives. Those include bioremediation of coastal pollution, localized control over ocean acidification and habitat in which other marine organisms can thrive.

And seaweed is good for Maine’s economy. The domestic market last year tallied up to some $10 billion, and it’s expected to grow to $12 billion by 2030. That said, over 90 percent of the seaweed consumed in the U.S. comes from Asian waters. Maine kelp farmers; harvesters of wild seaweeds like dulse, Irish moss, sea lettuce, wakame and wild Atlantic nori; and companies that process the seagreens into easy-to-use products for home cooks are ramping up operations to satisfy the nation’s appetite for seaweed closer to home. Next week, Nation Sea Grant Network’s Seaweed Hub is scheduled to host a three-day national seaweed symposium in Portland, recognition that Maine is at the cutting edge of the American seaweed industry.

Im believes America’s growing taste for seaweed rises out of our now three-decades-old embracing of sushi rolls, in which vinegared rice and a filling are wrapped in nori. Onggi sells lesser-known Korean rice-and-seaweed rolls called gimbap, which often have a kimchi filling, but can also include carrots, eggs, pickled daikon radish, spinach, cucumber, beef or sausage. “It’s a very casual meal. Kind of like how most Americans would view a burger,” Im explained.

Seaweed snacks: Roasted seaweed sheets, puffed seaweed, both from Korea, at top. Below, a cereal, nut and furikake snack mix that’s made and sold by Onggi in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Seaweed is also snack food in many Asian cultures, he said. His family eats roasted seaweed chips the way other American families consume potato chips. Puffed rice and seaweed snacks are popular, too. Onggi makes a sweet and savory cereal snack mix (think Chex and Corn flakes) with kelp. Get there early, as it sells out most days.

Lisa Scali, co-owner of Ocean’s Balance in Biddeford, says her seven-year-old company has a strong customer base among the healthy, clean-eating vegan crowd, with products like canisters of flaked dulse, wakame and kombu, jars of pureed kelp, bottles of seaweed seasonings (which have won food industry accolades), and detoxing powder for mixing into morning smoothies. With the introduction two years ago of pasta sauces that contain kelp, the company has made it very, very easy for Americans to include seaweed in the weeknight meal rotation.

Saco-based Atlantic Sea Farms partners with Maine kelp farmers and processes seaweed into frozen, easy-to-use smoothie cubes, sea-veggie burgers and ready-cut kelp noodles.


But even as more Maine companies retrofit seaweed into familiar American fare, Scali said seaweed’s ancient ties to Asian cuisines are undeniable.

“We’re beginning to fully embrace that connection!” she said, pointing to Ocean’s Balance’s new, bold red label and logo, which evoke Japanese block prints. The seasoning products the company previously called “sprinkles” now go by their rightful name, furikake. (Japanese use the condiment, which is made from dried fish flakes or bonito, sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, salt and sugar, to sprinkle over cooked rice, vegetables and fish.) Ocean’s Balance’s bonito furikake reflects the traditional combination of ingredients, but the company also offers two vegan flavors – spicy and shiitake.

As Maine seaweed processing companies embrace seaweed’s Asian culinary roots (Atlantic Sea Farms has a distinctly Asian line of fresh and fermented seaweed salads), they are also helping food companies across the country use Maine-sourced seaweed in their products for its clarifying, thickening and emulsifying culinary properties. Ocean’s Balance has a thriving wholesale operation that supplies a range of seaweeds to American processed food companies, Scale said. And Atlantic Sea Farms is building a research and development kitchen in which company staff will work with food manufacturers to integrate kelp into the recipes for their products.

If Maine seaweed companies have their way, eaters will be intentionally embracing seaweed-forward Asian inspired dishes during some meals and not really noticing that seaweed is in the mix in other more standard American dishes. Either way, seaweed is good for the Maine food economy, the environment, and us.

Oysters from Scarborough’s Nonesuch Oyster Co. with Spicy Rice Vinegar, Dulse and Cucumber Mignonette.  Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Maine Oysters with Spicy Rice Vinegar, Dulse and Cucumber Mignonette

Both oysters and seaweed grown and wild harvested along the coast of Maine help keep the sea and brackish waters pristine. Here is a combination that puts them on the same plate. Gochujang paste, available in most Asian grocery stores, is a savory, sweet and spicy fermented condiment popular in Korean cooking. In this dish, its funk plays with the acidity of the vinegar, the smokiness of the dulse and the brine of the oysters. The cucumbers offer a pop of green and a bit of crunch.


Serves 4-6 as an appetizer, 2 as a main dish

1/2 teaspoon gochujang paste
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup finely diced, seeded cucumber
1 tablespoon smoked dulse flakes
24 Maine oysters, scrubbed

Combine the gochujang and sugar with 1 tablespoon of warm water in a small bowl, and stir the mixture into a smooth sauce. Add the rice vinegar, cucumber and dulse.

Chill the mignonette in the refrigerator as you shuck the oysters. Arrange the shucked oysters on a serving platter lined with crushed ice. Serve immediately with the chilled mignonette.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at:

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: