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What Is Laver?

By Megan Shoop
Updated May 16, 2024
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Laver is a variety of red algae that grows off the coast of Japan and around the British Isles. Also called nori, it is most commonly seen as wrapping for sushi and associated with Japanese cooking. The Welsh, Irish, and Scottish have also long harvested wild laver for use in cakes and breads. This nutritious sea vegetable contains a wealth of health benefits and is often used in modern vegan and raw food recipes.

Japan is the only country that cultivates laver for commercial use. Gaelic natives seeking fresh laver for their recipes must typically harvest it from the sea. It grows on the top of the nitrogen-rich waters near coastlines in a flat, slimy-looking mass. Harvesters usually skim the mass from the surface of the water, dry it, and roast it into sheets. Cultivated laver needs little processing to make it safe to eat, but the wild variety must be strained and pasteurized before consumption.

Wrapping sushi isn’t the only way Japanese natives consume this sea vegetable. Some harvesters slice the dried pieces into strips and pack them in bags like potato chips. These chips may be eaten alone or sprinkled on top of salads and entrees. The freshly-harvested algae ranges in color from pink to deep purple, taking on its familiar green color only during roasting.

Those on the British Isles often dry the red algae and use it as in a mixture called laverbread. This vitamin-rich paste serves as a breakfast food, a tasty snack, or as the crust to many different Gaelic pies and rustic tarts. It isn't a bread in the traditional sense, but gets the name laverbread because it is so often used as a baking ingredient. The seaweed lends a rich, nutty flavor to breads, cakes, and crusts.

Grocery stores in the United Kingdom often sell prepared laverbread in cans, but home cooks in countries where laverbread is rare can make their own. Prepared red algae is available in online shops and in some Asian and organic grocery stores. The recipe combines about seven parts laver with one part each of orange juice and butter.

One must boil the laver in water for 35 to 40 minutes, drain it, and add it to a pan of melted butter. When the laver begins to get a little dry, one must add the orange juice and stir until the mixture is very thick. From here, the prepared laverbread may be added to any dough or hot cereal recipe.

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