Picture this: You’re on a culinary vacation, hoping to taste some of the best seafood in the country. You’ve made it to Nimmo Bay Resort, a wilderness lodge in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest in the far reaches of the British Columbian coastline. Whales glide by while you soak in a waterfall-side hot tub, and your days are spent in a temperate paradise.

Seaweed benefits | A waterfall-side hot tub at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort

Out on a boat expedition, you peer over the side with a mixture of curiosity and hunger, waiting for the diver to emerge. They do — with long, sensuous strands of seaweed in hand. Perhaps you were expecting scallops, crabs or even sea urchins. But seaweed?

In the past, many Canadians might have associated seaweed solely with sushi menus, but the versatile ingredient is finally gaining more recognition on our shores. Cultures around the world, from Scotland to the South Pacific Islands, have long-standing traditions of foraging for seaweed, but seldom has that trickled into Canadian dining destinations, until recent years.

Seaweed benefits | A whale breaches the surface at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort

Seaweed is a strong contender to satisfy the current surge of hungry consumers seeking more sustainable, health-focused food systems. The group of marine plants offers a combination of powerful health benefits for the body, are sourced with a small footprint and can be used in everything from food to toothpaste and skincare.

Seaweed packs a punch as a source of iodine, both soluble and insoluble fibre and antioxidants, not to mention a myriad of easily digestible vitamins and minerals. It has unique prebiotic qualities, with some studies showing a correlation between seaweed and reduced inflammation in the gut, as well as an improved immune system.

Seaweed grows wild and requires no fertilizer or freshwater, and thrives in some of the most degraded coastal environments. It also captures and stores carbon dioxide (some studies suggest even better than trees) and releases oxygen; it’s currently one of only a few foods considered to have a negative carbon footprint.

Seaweed benefits | The dining room at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort

Toronto-based chef Charlotte Langley, renowned for her advocacy for a sustainable seafood sector, has been using seaweed for over 15 years, but not in the volume she’s seeing it surface in the foodie scene now.

“The burst is happening,” she shares, “but we’ll see it expand as we navigate food security. It’s a chance to diversify what we’re consuming so as not to put so much pressure on one commodity.”

Seaweed benefits | Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest

B.C. in particular has seen a surge in seaweed enthusiasts among the adventurous culinary travellers who are drawn to its coastline — particularly around Vancouver Island. In response, there has been not only an increase in surprising seaweed-infused dishes, but tours and seaweed-centric experiences, too.

At Nimmo Bay Resort, having a food and beverage program tied closely to land and sea has been central to the experiences they’ve offered for over 40 years. Yet, the recent piqued interest from consumers in wild marine harvesting has driven them to increase their knowledge of foraging.

Seaweed benefits | A snorkelling trip on Nimmo Bay with a floating picnic of spot prawns
Seaweed benefits | Spot prawns served at a floating picnic

A new one-day enhancement to the resort’s all-inclusive retreats, Taste the Wild deeply connects travellers to place through immersive hands-on culinary experiences, coastal excursions and wild foraging sessions. It’s a day of delighting the senses beyond taste — the splash of marine mammals breaking the ocean’s surface, the chilly waters of the inlet and the lavish colours of its spectacular biodiversity.

On Nimmo Bay Resort’s boat and paddleboard excursions, guides seldom miss a chance to point out the beds of bull kelp, bundles of sea lettuce and nori. There’s also an ever-changing smorgasbord of local fare served throughout a stay here, which includes kelp not just in dishes, but as a rim on select cocktails too.

Seaweed benefits | Bull kelp at Nimmo Bay Resort
Seaweed benefits | A duck dish at Nimmo Bay Resort

Food and beverage manager Linnéa LeTourneau keeps the incorporation of seaweed simple as a way to educate people on these lesser-known ingredients. “I let the ingredients speak for themselves rather than manipulating it so much you can’t tell what’s actually in there,” she says. “We harvest in late spring, early summer and preserve it to use for the rest of the season.”

LeTourneau’s team is sometimes invited by a local Indigenous family to harvest together. Wild hand-harvested seaweed has been a staple of sustenance in remote Indigenous communities since time immemorial — and even used as a vessel for collecting herring eggs.

Seaweed benefits | Outdoor dining at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort

It’s a long-standing culinary tradition that led to the opening of the Indigenous-led Naas Foods in the picturesque surf town of Tofino. Here, you’ll find organic products that are hand-processed from their small-scale kelp farm, alongside kelp harvesting tours beginning this spring.

Seaweed’s potential as a low-impact food source, and kelp forests’ extensive role as habitat and nourishment for marine life, are what guide educational boat trips and foraging tours across the B.C. coast.

Seaweed benefits | Amanda Swinimer, owner of Dakini Tidal Wilds, is a seaweed expert
Seaweed benefits | Amanda Swinimer, owner of Dakini Tidal Wilds, holding seaweed

Amanda Swinimer, owner of Dakini Tidal Wilds, is renowned as one of the foremost seaweed experts on the coast. A marine biologist and the author of The Science and Spirit of Seaweed, Swinimer touts the science-backed health benefits of seaweed for culinary and medicinal uses, as well as its capacity to help fight climate change.

From May to September, she hosts wild edible seaweed tours packed full of education. They take place in Victoria’s James Bay with its epic sea-to-sky backdrop: the dark waters of the Strait of Georgia against Mount Baker and the peaks of the Olympic Peninsula. Swinimer’s focus is harvesting in a way that allows the seaweed to consistently grow back again; it is naturally regenerative.

In the more remote edges of Vancouver Island North, where foraging is accompanied by bright sea stars, psychedelic nudibranchs, sea anemones and occasional bear sightings, chef Jade Berg, seen on Chefs vs Wild, hosts tours through his company, Wild Isle.

Seaweed benefits | Cracking open a can of Tofino Brewing Co.’s Kelp Stout
Seaweed benefits | Cans of Tofino Brewing Co.’s Kelp Stout

Back in Vancouver and Victoria restaurants, seaweed is popping up in unexpected dishes and kelp is being infused into familiar favourites. At Tofino Brewing Co., their well-known Kelp Stout is given a unique umami flavour to balance out the sweet notes; like salted dark chocolate. The west-coast brew will arrive in Ontario with availability at the LCBO later this year.

An intimate destination restaurant tucked behind an unassuming frontage, Ucluelet’s award-winning Pluvio resto-hotel is worth travelling for. Its impeccable seasonal menu prioritizes local producers and wild harvesting. Don’t expect the simplicity of a seaweed salad or a nori roll here. Seaweed has been included in just about anything you can imagine, from kelp gnocchi, kombu butter and doughnuts to hand-blended teas, and Vancouver Island sea salt and sugar kelp in whisky.

Seaweed benefits | Seaweed appears in a dish at Don Alfonso in Toronto
Seaweed benefits | In Toronto, Planta's kelp caesar is made with seaweed

Toronto may be a little farther from the ocean, but the city has also seen a rise in chefs cooking with seaweed. At Canoe Restaurant, a Toronto staple for suits and sweeping views, a nori vinaigrette is served with dishes on their Canadian-inspired menu. Vegan restaurant Planta sees it included in their kelp caesar, and at one-Michelin-star restaurant Don Alfonso, the Croccante di Verdure Biologiche is made with seaweed and sea bean.

Seaweed benefits | Lobster pasta at Perch
Seaweed benefits | Chawanmushi at Perch

Further afield, but well worth the travel time, restaurants like Vin Mon Lapin and Montréal Plaza in Montréal also include seaweed in their dishes. In Ottawa, Perch is a fine dining restaurant with a focus on Canadian ingredients, ethical farming and sustainability. Their menu features creative dishes like seaweed-poached broccoli stem and seaweed-wrapped roasted duck.

With diners taking a more health-conscious and eco-friendly approach to eating, and chefs and restaurants following suit, it might only be a matter of time before seaweed becomes a staple from coast to coast.