Friday, February 4, 2011

How to make custard with seaweed

OK, so you may have just read the title of this post and asked why anyone would want to make custard with seaweed. I guess the two main reasons are that it's frugal and it's nutritious. If you live near the beach, you can collect the seaweed for free. And that seaweed will have lots of beneficial properties like iodine, vitamin C, iron, potassium, magnesium and so on.

Last weekend I had the extreme good fortune of going on a seaweed gathering expedition with Dr Wendy Nelson. Wendy is an expert in seaweed ‘taxonomy’ (the science of formally identifying and describing species) and a Principal Scientist at NIWA, where she co-leads research programmes in marine biodiversity and biosecurity.

She's also a member of my church and took a group of us out last Saturday to learn about gathering and preparing seaweed for eating.

We headed down to one of our local beaches at low tide, where Wendy braved the waters to collect a variety of seaweed for us to examine. I learned about several varieties that are native to New Zealand, as well as one that is the 'gorse' of our marine world (ie. introduced from abroad and slowly strangling out our native species).

After collecting our seaweed, we headed back to Wendy's house where, among other things, she boiled up some Gigartina seaweed in milk to make a custard. Now, apparently Gigartina is great for the skin and can be an effective cure for psoriasis, eczema and herpes.

The seaweed reacts with the calcium in milk when cooked and helps it to set in a jelly-like manner. Because of this it can be used as a gelatin substitute for vegetarians.

Wendy's custard was delicious and didn't taste like seaweed at all. This inspired me to have a go myself at home, but I think I had too much seaweed and cooked it for too long, because mine ended up tasting decidedly briny.

In any case, I'll share the recipe with you in case you feel like foraging your dessert one of these days.

  • 100g fresh Gigartina (approximately one handful)
  • 400mls milk
  • 2T brown sugar
  • 1t vanilla extract

1. Rinse Gigartina thoroughly in running water to remove any sand, salt and critters.

2. Soak cleaned Gigartina in fresh water for an hour.

3. Drain Gigartina and place in a saucepan with the milk. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and strain mixture through a sieve into a bowl to separate milk from seaweed. (Chuck the used Gigartina in your compost or straight on your garden as a fertiliser.)

4. Stir sugar and vanilla extract through milk.

5. Pour mixture into moulds and place in the fridge to set. The custard will likely set differently each time, ie. more firmly or softly depending on the amount of natural carrageenans in the Gigartina you use to cook it.

Serves two

I gave some Gigartina custard to L and she ate a little bit, but mostly she just enjoyed the feeling of mushing it with her fingers.

So there you go. If you're feeling adventurous and want to forage for your dessert, here's one you can try. I'm sure it would be delicious mixed with foraged berries if you wanted to really get into the spirit of things.


  1. Wow Emma, that is really interesting. So cool that you now know what kind of seaweed to collect and use. Good on you.


  2. I think I'd be able to remember which seaweed to get. They all look the same to my untrained eye.


Thank you for visiting Craving Fresh, and for taking the time to comment. Your feedback is so important to me.