Sea Shore To Kitchens Door- Bullwhip Kelp Pickles

Provider Outdoors Staffer, Margie Nelson is a kitchen phenom. Margie can make the most amazing foods out of nearly anything she finds. Check out this recipe for Bullwhip Kelp Pickles. Yep…Bull Kelp Pickles!

When you think of foraging for edible plants from the shores of our oceans, seaweed probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, the truth is there are tasty and healthy types of seaweed that can be easily harvested. Bullwhip kelp is high in protein and dietary fiber and contains nutrients like potassium, magnesium, iodine, and more.  You can usually find it washed up on the beach after a big storm. To tell if its fresh, pick it up and bend it, if it snaps, it’s good to eat, if not, keep looking.  The outside may look a little worse for wear with algae and other types of clingers.  Nothing a carrot peeler and a bottle brush can’t fix once you get it back to the kitchen.

Both the stipe (stalk), and blades (flowing fronds on the top), and the bulbs that keep the stipe and blade afloat are good to use for food also.  The gas in the bulb is 10% Carbon Monoxide a byproduct of photosynthesis as well as the other gases naturally found in air.   Be sure to gather a bit of everything and let your imagination go wild when you are preparing your kelp.

One of the best parts about finding bull kelp on the beach is that once you find some, you find a lot.

It’s best to collect in areas that seem clean and do not have a lot of pollutants.  It is easy to gather far more than you can use. Plus, you’ll need to process the bullwhip kelp within the first day or two of harvest, so make sure you’re ready to prepare it right away. 

So gather up your bull kelp by harvesting directly from the sea in accordance with the State laws and suggested methods.  Or find some washed up on the shore.  You will know if it is fresh, trust me!

Some States allow you the harvest it from the ocean if you cut off just what you need (or are allowed) from the surface area, some States do not allow to gather attached bull kelp.  Be mindful of the laws and rules.  California has Giant Kelp and is much like the Bull Kelp of Oregon, Washington and Alaska.  The best way to tell the difference is Giant Kelp has a vein going directly up the middle of each frond like a vein in a leaf.  Bull Kelp does not.

Once you get it home spend some time outdoors with your hose.  Rinse off all the sand and other clingers and then bring it home and into the kitchen sink for another short rinse and closer inspection.

Bullwhip kelp is an interesting seaweed with bulbs, stipes (stems), and blades (leaves). Each part can be eaten. The bulbs and stipes, for example, can be pickled, while the blades can be dried into chips and added to soups and other meals.

When using the blades you will need to lay them out flat on paper towels to dry a bit, don’t pat them because this will remove some of the natural juices that are somewhat like aloe.   If you are so inclined, the natural characteristics of this aloe like substance will relieve sunburn and feels good on your face.  So lay a couple of fronds on your face for a bit they are full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory qualities.…you will love it.

Kelp Frond Powder is a naturally salty and savory condiment, ready to sprinkle on soups, salads, cooked vegetables, rice, popcorn etc.

Of all the seaweeds, Bull Kelp Fronds are the highest in minerals and electrolytes, especially potassium and magnesium. They contain about three times as much potassium salt as sodium salt, an ideal balance of electrolytes.

Kelp Fronds are also an excellent source of trace elements (including iodine and selenium) and therapeutic polysaccharides. Bull Kelp is a Brown seaweed.

To use a whole piece of bull kelp for food, start with those fronds.  You can dry them naturally but hanging them from a line and letting them air dry or send them for a short round in the dehydrator to crisp them up for chips or to be ground into a seasoning for soups and salad.  I really like to dry, grind and add them to an equal part of nutritional yeast and some truffle salt to taste.  I love this on popcorn…

Never fear if your bull kelp looks gnarly on the outside.  Just cut it into manageable pieces (6-8 inches long pieces) and peel as you would a carrot.  If the inside looks a bit “hairy” and it bothers you, use a bottle brush to remove.  After you have finished cleaning them up a bit, rinse again. 

You will find that the aloe like sticky substance is plentiful after the kelp has been rinsed with fresh water and cut, so use it in your hair and on your skin.  You can put some Kelp Jelly in a jar and into the fridge.  It will last 2-3 days, and it feels great on your face when it is cold and fresh from the fridge.

Now cut those cleaned up stipe into nice slices.  They are so interesting to look at and they make some lovely “pickles” too.  Use any pickle recipe that you like for dill, sweet, bread and butter or add some spicy peppers into the batch for some heat!  These are not going to taste like our cucumber pickle friends, but you won’t be disappointed!

When you fill your jars with sliced bull whip stipes you will need to pack it in good.  I found that if I pack and much as I think I can fit and then pour in some water halfway up the jar and tap it on the table a bit to get them to settle, I can always fit more in.  Pack the slices in tight and pour out the water and can like you would any other pickle.

I made dill pickles, some with a nice big piece of garlic and some with the garlic and a small dried red pepper for some heat.  And I will make a batch of Bread-and-Butter pickled kelp next time I harvest some.   Use some Kelp Jelly for your face, make some crushed dried frond seasoning for soup, salad, and popcorn.  Or make some pickles….so many options!

Give it a try if you come upon some Bull kelp…you won’t be sorry!

Recipes I used.

Dill Kelp Pickles.

  • 12 pounds sliced kelp
  • 2 thinly sliced red onions
  • 1/2 Cup sugar
  • 1 quart apple cider vinegar
  • 1 quart of water
  • 4 Tbsp of pickling spice (either bought or homemade, recipe follows)
  • Green dill heads (one per jar)
  • Peeled garlic cloves (one per jar)
  • Dried hot pepper (one per jar)


Rinse the kelp slices and onions and then place in a single layer on a couple of sheet pans lined with paper towels and let dry overnight.

The next day, combine the vinegar, water, and pickling spices in a large saucepan. Heat to a boil.

Pack your sterilized canning jars with the kelp and onions, leaving about 1/2-inch space from the top of the jars. Pour the vinegar mixture over the kelp and onions to fill the jars. Seal the jars according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Store in the refrigerator and allow to sit for several days before opening to allow the flavors to fully develop. Best served chilled.  These are now canned, so only chill because they taste better cold! 

Pickling spice mixture

Mix Together:

  • 2 Tbls Whole Pepper Corns
  • 2 Tbls Mustard Seed (yellow)
  • 1 Tbls Allspice
  • 2 Tbls Coriander
  • 2 Tbls Dill Seed
  • 8 Bay Leaves

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