Though its name is less than appetizing, gutweed is actually quite delicious. A crisp and delicate green algae that can be harvested in many places along the coastlines of Denmark, it is readily available throughout the spring and summer.
Where to Find It
Gutweed adheres to rocks or quays close to the water’s surface, usually not more than a couple meters deep. It thrives in areas of low salinity, so look for it in places where fresh water meets salt water, such as at the outlet of streams or fjords. In these areas, gutweed can develop into verdant underwater forests.
When to Find It
You can pick gutweed in spring, throughout summer, and into early fall.
Top shoot: March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October.
How to Spot It
Gutweed is composed of clusters of bright green shoots that are 30-40 cm long and grow on rocks on the sea floor or close to the surf. The shoots fill up with oxygen, which allows the seaweed to float; a colony of gutweed will resemble an underwater meadow bobbing in the current. The shoots are bumpy, irregularly shaped, and semi-transparent.
How to Pick It
In areas where gutweed grows close to the shoreline, put on waders to gather it in the water, or pick it directly from rocks at water’s edge. If the water is warm enough, pull on a bathing suit or a wetsuit and dive for it—diving will allow you to harvest the seaweed in deeper waters where it grows abundantly and is better tasting. Be sure to cut off the shoot with a knife or scissors so that the plant can regenerate itself. Gutweed prefers nutrient-rich waters, but these aren’t always the best place to gather your next meal, so keep an eye out for nearby waste water discharge.
On the palate
Gutweed tastes like the shell of a shrimp and has a strong umami flavor. It is springy, crisp, and toothsome, without being too fibrous.
Gutweed has a fleeting aroma, much like that of truffles.
If the seaweed is fresh, you can eat it raw after rinsing it and slicing into thin strips. Cooking makes it more tender, however. Gutweed can be baked, grilled, or boiled. It’s especially tasty when dried and eaten as a chip, or when ground and used as seasoning.
Fresh raw gutweed adds crunch and texture to salads. You can add it, dried and powdered, to bread dough or sprinkle it onto most types of meat, where it will highlight the umami flavor. It does the same for fish and vegetarian dishes. For cooked preparations, do not boil the gutweed, but dry it instead, then break the sheet into pieces before adding it just before serving. Gutweed also works well in sweet dishes—for example, in homemade honey ice cream—and you can make a tea from it by pouring boiling water over the thin, fresh top shoot.
Store the fresh gutweed in a sealed bag or airtight container inside the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Place a moist dishcloth over it to keep it fresh and crisp. Rinsing the gutweed with fresh water will reduce its shelf life. If you want to store it for a period longer than a few days, you’ll need to dry it and store it in an airtight container. Once rehydrated, the gutweed will keep for one day in the refrigerator.
Gutweed can be replaced with sea lettuce and sea cellophane.
Risk of misidentifying the plant
There is no risk of mistaking the plant for another dangerous or undesirable plant. You should, however, be careful not to confuse it with eelgrass. Eelgrass grows in the sand and isn't dangerous, but it’s hardly delicious either.