Kelp powder is gaining popularity as a healthy seasoning that adds umami flavor and nutrients to various dishes. Made from dried kelp seaweed, it provides a subtly briny, ocean-like taste along with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and iodine.
However, kelp powder can be difficult to find or expensive for some people. Fortunately, there are several easy-to-source substitutes that mimic the flavor profile and benefits of kelp powder.
Key Takeaway: Dried mushrooms, soy sauce, fish sauce, seaweed flakes, and broth powders make excellent substitutes for kelp powder's savory umami taste. Nutritional yeast, seaweed supplements, and sea vegetables provide similar health benefits.
Why Use Kelp Powder?
Kelp powder is produced by drying and grinding whole kelp seaweed into a fine powder. It imparts a subtle ocean-like flavor that adds depth and savoriness to dishes without overpowering them. The taste is described as briny, mineral-rich, and umami.
In addition to its distinctive taste, kelp powder is prized for its nutritional benefits. It's an excellent source of:
- Iodine - crucial for thyroid health
- Antioxidants - protect cells from damage
- Fiber - improves digestion
- Vitamins - A, B, C, E, K
- Minerals - calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron
Kelp powder is easy to incorporate into foods like soups, broths, salad dressings, veggie burgers, smoothies, and more. Just a small sprinkling boosts nutrition while enhancing flavor.
Finding Alternatives to Kelp Powder
Despite its merits, kelp powder can be difficult to locate or relatively expensive, especially for those living far inland. Here are some reasons you may need a substitute:
- Limited availability - Specialty stores may not stock it
- High cost - Prices can range from $14-$40 per ounce
- Strong flavor - Some people dislike the "fishy" taste
- Thyroid issues - Excess iodine from kelp can be problematic
- Allergies - Kelp allergy or iodine sensitivity
Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives that mimic both the unique flavor and nutritional benefits of kelp powder.
Flavor Substitutes for Umami Taste
The distinctive umami taste of kelp powder largely comes from glutamic acid. When looking for a flavor substitute, ingredients high in natural glutamates are your best bet for replicating the savory depth of kelp. Options include:
Like kelp, dried mushrooms are very high in glutamic acid, giving them an intense umami punch. Dried shiitakes, porcini, and morels make especially good substitutes. For optimal flavor extraction, soak mushrooms overnight in warm water before using. Strain and use the soaking liquid as a broth or incorporate re-hydrated mushrooms into dishes.
Key Takeaway: Soaked then strained dried mushrooms impart a rich umami flavor similar to kelp.
A staple in Asian cuisines, soy sauce is made by fermenting soybeans which naturally creates glutamates. It provides salty umami depth without any fishy flavors. Use sparingly, as soy sauce is very high in sodium. Replace 1 tsp of kelp powder with 1/2 tsp soy sauce.
Like soy sauce, fish sauce is naturally high in glutamic acid thanks to its fermented fish base. It provides an intense savory flavor reminiscent of the sea. Use just 1/4 to 1/2 tsp fish sauce in place of 1 tsp kelp powder. Too much can overpower a dish.
Flaked versions of seaweeds like dulse, nori, arame, and wakame make easy kelp powder swaps. Their briny ocean flavor comes from natural glutamates. Dulse and arame flakes are especially close to kelp's taste. Use flakes to sprinkle on finished dishes instead of kelp powder.
Broths and Soup Bases
Store-bought or homemade broths lend a subtle umami background to dishes. Options like kombu dashi, mushroom broth, chicken broth, and miso soup base provide the savory richness of kelp powder when used as an ingredient or cooking liquid. Use 1 cup broth in place of 1 tsp kelp powder.
Finding the Nutritional Benefits of Kelp Powder
In addition to umami flavor, people use kelp powder for its dense nutrient content. Here are some alternatives that offer similar nutritional benefits:
This inactive yeast is a vegan source of B-vitamins, protein, and trace minerals like zinc and selenium. It makes recipes creamier and nuttier. The flavor is different from kelp but still provides key nutrition. Use 1-2 tbsp in place of kelp powder.
Kelp supplements in powder, capsule, or tablet form provide all the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in kelp powder. Look for brands that source real seaweed. Follow package dosing instructions.
Dulse Flakes or Powder
Dulse is a type of red seaweed like kelp that is nutritionally dense. Flaked or powdered dulse contains protein, vitamin K, iron, and antioxidants. It makes an easy nutritional substitute while mimicking kelp's taste. Use 1:1 ratio.
Wakame, arame, nori and other sea veg provide minerals like iodine and iron, plus protein, fiber and vitamins. Add them to dishes instead of kelp powder for nutrition, or use seaweed supplements.
Many people take kelp for its high iodine content. As an alternative, choose iodized table salt which is enriched with iodine. This ensures adequate iodine intake for thyroid health. Use regular quantities in recipes as needed.
Key Takeaway: Nutritional yeast, seaweed supplements, sea vegetables, and iodized salt are alternatives that provide the nutrition found in kelp powder.
Best Kelp Powder Substitutes for Different Uses
The optimal kelp powder alternative depends on how you intend to use it:
For sautéing, soups, stews, etc. use dried mushrooms, seaweed flakes, broths, or small amounts of soy/fish sauce to replicate kelp's savory umami flavor.
Swap kelp powder for nutritional yeast or dried mushrooms in baked goods. Reduce other salt and seasonings since these impart savoriness.
Smoothies and Drinks
Hide seaweed flavor in smoothies with mild nutritional yeast or seaweed supplements. For teas, use kelp tea bags or kombu tea powder.
Salads and Dressings
Instead of kelp powder, add dried seaweed flakes like dulse or nori. Or use seaweed supplements for a nutrition boost without fishy taste.
Supplements and Superfoods
Take seaweed capsules or tablets for kelp's nutrients. Or use kelp powder alternatives like dulse or arame powder.
Finishing and Garnish
Dried seaweed flakes make an easy swap as a finishing sprinkle. Or use kelp granules or shaved sea palm.
Vegans and Vegetarians
Try nutritional yeast, seaweed flakes, sea vegetables, or kelp supplements to replace kelp powder in plant-based dishes.
How Much to Use
Kelp powder substitutes vary in intensity so potency should guide measured amounts:
- Dried shiitakes - Use 20% less since their umami flavor is very concentrated
- Seaweed flakes - Use the same 1:1 ratio as kelp powder
- Soy sauce - Use half the amount of kelp powder
- Strong broths - Use 3/4 amount of kelp powder
- Mild broths - Use the same amount as kelp powder
- Nutritional yeast - Use 1.5x more since it's milder
- Iodized salt - Use the same amount to replace kelp's iodine
For all seasonings, adjust to taste and tweak amounts until you achieve the ideal savory flavor. Start with less and add more if needed.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about finding substitutes for kelp powder:
Can I use seaweed instead of kelp powder?
Yes, dried seaweed flakes or sheets make easy kelp replacements. Nori, wakame, dulse, and arame have the most similar briny seaweed flavor. Use crumbled sheets or flakes instead of kelp powder.
Is fish sauce a good kelp powder substitute?
Fish sauce adds savory umami flavor reminiscent of the ocean. Use just 1/4 tsp in place of 1 tsp kelp powder. Too much fish sauce overpowers a dish.
What seasoning gives a "fishy" taste like kelp powder?
Ingredients made from fermented fish impart savory umami and subtle fishiness. Fish sauce and bonito broth powder are closest to mimicking kelp powder's ocean flavor.
Can I use kelp granules instead of kelp powder?
Yes, kelp granules (also called kelp sprinkles) make an easy 1:1 substitute for kelp powder. They provide the same umami flavor and nutrition in a granulated format that's salt-like.
Are seaweed snacks a good substitute for kelp powder?
Dried seaweed snack sheets aren't ground into a powder but can be used as a substitute. Crush into flakes and use like kelp powder to sprinkle on finished dishes. Nori and dulse work best.
Kelp powder offers a tasty umami flavor and dense nutrition from seaweed. However, when kelp powder isn't readily available or suitable for your needs, viable substitutes exist.
Dried mushrooms, seaweed flakes, broths, soy sauce, and fish sauce mimic its savory taste. Sea veggies, nutritional yeast, and kelp supplements provide similar nutritional benefits.