Sugar Kelp (Laminaria saccharina) Identification

Sugar Kelp / Spring / Summer / Autumn / Winter / Edible

Other Common Names:

Sea-belt, Sugar Wrack


Latin Name:

Laminaria saccharina, Saccharina latissima


Harvest Season:

This seaweed grows rapidly from winter until April, so can be a good find when other species have receded.


Habitat:

This seaweed is fond of low water, sheltered areas with fast-moving flows. It dislikes exposed shores, and is often found in patches along water’s edges.


Range and Distributions:

Found throughout the UK, some western coasts of northern Europe, and eastern North America.


Conservation Considerations:

Never pull the entire plant away from its rock – if harvesting from fixed plants, only harvest the frond, leaving the base to reproduce the following year.


Physical Characteristics:

This kelp has a relatively small short, fine stipe (stem), which has a round cross-section and is more flexible than other kelps. Its brown fronds are undivided, with rigidly frilled edges and bubbles/highly textured centre sections. The shape of the fronds can be quite variable depending on the conditions in which the plant grows, e.g. water flow, exposure etc.

Yvalima, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
David Csepp, NOAA/NMFS/AKFSC/Auke Bay Lab, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Could be Confused with, and Other Safety Notes:

No other species is as rigidly frilled at its edges – dabberlocks is a bit wrinkled and is also brown, but has a distinctive midrib which differentiates it from sugar kelp. As with all seaweeds, a very high iodine content means that those with thyroid issues or taking thyroid medication should take great care if increasing their seaweed intake, letting their healthcare provider know.


Edible Uses:

This seaweed has a uniquely sweet taste, and can therefore be used by the creative cook in many exciting ways.

Marinade and cook down for a new take on sweet and sour sauces, add to exciting salads alongside fruits, cheese and nuts, or experiment with bringing the umami flavours into deserts.


Medicinal Uses:

As with all seaweeds, sugar kelp is very high in minerals and salts due to needing to retain enough water in a very saline environment.

This makes it a wonderful tonic food, important in the maintenance of a thriving nervous, immune and just about every other body system.

Consume in moderation – see the safety section above. Clinically (by medical herbalists), seaweeds are often used for skin and skeletal issues.


Extra Points, Tips and Fun Facts:

The sugar in the name refers to a white, sweet powder (mannitol) that forms on the dried fronds of this species. On the Orkney Island of North Ronaldsay, sugar kelp is enthusiastically enjoyed by a certain breed of sheep, for whom seaweed is one of the only available foods for some parts of the year.

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