by Matt Baume
As Sophia Rouches launches her sea kayak from Larrabee State Park to paddle out into the Samish Bay, a flotilla of tourists follows behind her like ducklings, all on the hunt. Their next snack is out there, just waiting to be snatched out of the water and devoured.
“We love seaweed,” Rouches says. “It’s amazing.”
Rouches is Operations Manager and Guide at Moondance Kayak, leading tours of Puget Sound’s various ecosystems throughout the year. Guests might catch a glimpse of river otters or bald eagles as they paddle across the water, but at the moment, we’re in the throes of seaweed-foraging season.
What can one make with foraged seaweed? It’s not all salads and sushi, Rouches says. With the right ingredients, she can whip up a tempting chocolate seaweed pudding.
“There’s basically hundreds of kinds of seaweed you can harvest,” she says. Almost (but not quite) every kind of seaweed that grows around the region is safe to eat, they’re all extremely nutrient-dense, and they’re shockingly sustainable: In a single day, a plant can grow more than six inches.
All you need is a permit (they’re cheap, around $20) and maybe a good strong pair of scissors. If you’re strolling on a beach, look for fresh, lively growth, Rouches advises, with a strong grip on the rocks.
Foragers are likely to have far more options out on the water, away from stagnant water and boats. Low tides around the full and new moons are the best times to head out since the water level will be the lowest.
Then once you have your bundle — the state limits you to ten pounds per day, so try to control yourself — you’re ready to feast. Flash-boiling will turn many species a more appetizing color and texture, and you can prepare a seaweed salad, or broth, or tea, or dry it to make crunchy snackable flakes. Pudding can be made with melted chocolate, sugar, salt, vanilla, and milk; seaweed contains carrageenan, a natural thickener that you’ve probably had in your mouth countless times if you’ve ever brushed your teeth.
Despite the ubiquity of seaweed-derived ingredients in many processed foods, Rouches acknowledges that it can be a hard sell.
“Some friends had a seafood party one time, and I was like, “I’ll bring seaweed pudding,'” she says. “They were like … ‘what do you mean?’”
But people tend to come around. “Every trip I mention it, because I love it,” she says. “The initial response is, ‘I don’t know about that.’ But if you see how it’s prepared and see that a seaweed pudding is chocolate pudding that tastes really good, then people are on board.”
Moondance was founded in 1992 by Sharmon Hill, who started the company’s foraging tours. “She would see seaweed and snack on it, and that knowledge has been passed down through the company and the guides,” says Rouches, who joined the company about five years ago.
Of course, she doesn’t just lead trips for seaweed-eaters; the company also organizes excursions to gander at seabirds, or watch frolicking harbor seals, or simply to breathe deep and take in the scent of the salty spray. For all senses, the sea yields endless rewards.
“Every trip is different,” Rouches says. “You never quite know what you’re going to see out there.”