All along the Danish coast, you’re sure to find bladderwrack washed ashore. The brown kelp may be the bane of swimmers, but it’s also one of the tastiest and most easily procured varieties of seaweed.
Where to Find It
Bladderwrack helps maintain the proper balance of sunlight, salt, and nutrients in the water. It can be found along many shores in Denmark, where it often washes onto the beach in large, brown mats. Live bladderwrack attaches itself to rocks or shells, and prefers to grow near the coast, but it can also thrive further at sea among billowing kelp forests that can grow up to one meter high.
When to Find It
Bladderwrack can be harvested year round, but spring, when the seaweed is fresh, is the best season to collect it. Later in the year, it dies, and begins to collect mineral deposits.
Top shoots: March, April, May, June.
How to Spot It
Bladderwrack is a type of brown algae that grows up to 70 cm long and anchors itself to rocks with the small, suction-cup-like pads at its base. Once anchored, it shoots towards the surface, carried by the air-filled bladders that grow along its leafy extensions, called fronds, that fork into branches. Fruit bodies form at the very tip of the fronds; in spring these can look like large, heart-shaped eggs. The bladderwrack stores its seeds in these fruit bodies.
How to Pick It
Large piles of bladderwrack on the beach have been ripped from their beds by storms or strong currents. It’s best, then, to avoid the washed-up wrack and direct your attention instead to the live kelp that grow along the shore. There may be barnacles, algae or other growths on the bladderwrack, so focus on the nicest, cleanest specimens you can find, and remove the outer shoot with scissors or a knife—this way you'll be left with the best-tasting part. Low tide makes it easier to reach live algae, but you can also dive for bladderwrack; it can grow 5 to 6 meters below the surface. Once summer’s long hours of sunlight recede, so will the bladderwrack.
On the palate
Bladderwrack has a mild and pleasantly briny taste, with a strong ocean umami flavor. Its secondary notes can vary greatly, depending on where and when the wrack grew; in summer, for example, it takes on smoky or iodine-like flavors. Once the bladderwrack has been dried, it has more of a mineral taste. Bladderwrack has a raw snap to it, and its small, air-filled pods pop pleasingly between your teeth.
Bladderwrack smells mildly of the ocean and shellfish.
If the wrack is fresh, you can eat it raw after rinsing and slicing it into thin strips. Cooking, however, makes it more tender. Bladderwrack can be baked, grilled, or boiled. It’s especially tasty when dried and eaten as a chip, or when ground and used as seasoning.
You can add dried, powdered wrack 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. The wrack also works in sweet dishes—for example, in homemade ice cream or paired with dark chocolate. It can be made into tea by pouring boiling water over the thin, fresh top shoot and letting it steep. You can also cut off the bladderwrack's fruit bodies, rinse and blanch them, and fill them with lobster meat to make little raviolis of the sea. Or, cut the bodies apart and make wrack capers by salting and pickling the seeds inside.
Store the fresh wrack 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 wrack with fresh water will reduce its shelf life. If you want to store the wrack for a period longer than a few days, you’ll need to dry it and store it in an airtight container. Once rehydrated, the wrack will keep for one day in the refrigerator.
Bladderwrack can be replaced with serrated wrack and spiral wrack.
Risk of misidentifying the plant
There is no risk of mistaking the plant for another dangerous or undesirable plant.