I admit, I was a little tentative about trying a seaweed shake in Belize. But I kept hearing wonderful things – “Revitalizing!” “Hydrating!” “Invigorating!” – so I set out in search of an ideal place to have my first taste.
I took a seat at The Shak Beach Café, a vegetarian health food hotspot on the sandy southern end of the Placencia Peninsula. In the midst of this laid-back café, while enjoying an uninterrupted view of the Caribbean on three sides of the patio, the sunshine bathing everything in warmth and light… I was still feeling apprehensive. I’m usually a diehard adventure traveler, eager to try new things, but this seaweed shake was throwing me. I pictured an electric green concoction, thick clots of briny seaweed in every sip, clogging the straw, impossible to choke down. I gagged just thinking about what I envisioned to be a sickening combination of salty algae and milky liquid.
For all the health benefits of seaweed, I could understand why some people might force themselves to swallow down the kind of shake I was imagining. Seaweed, a vitamin-rich superfood, is actually one of the most affordable alternative medicines used in Belize, thought to be a cure for fatigue, a longevity-booster, and an aphrodisiac. Often, rum or brandy is added to supply the seaweed shake with a little extra kick. But I wasn’t thinking about being revitalized – instead I was dreading something so awful-tasting I’d be put off malteds for the rest of my life. I heard the blender whirring in the kitchen.
When the waitress brought my seaweed shake, she delivered it with a knowing wink. I looked at the glass in front of me. The shake wasn’t green or clumpy – instead, it looked like a typical milkshake, frothy white and smooth. Nothing to be afraid of. I took one tentative sip, then a big gulp.
My tongue savored the taste of sweet, silky milk with hints of cinnamon, spicy nutmeg, and vanilla – not a trace of bitterness or salt. Smooth, creamy, and deliciously cold, the seaweed shake slid down easy, melting away my apprehension with every pull of the straw. I made short work of the shake and sat back, waiting for the burst of vitality. The only invigorating jolt I felt seemed to come from how refreshingly icy the drink was… maybe it only works with rum?
I learned later that Belizeans have been eating seaweed since ancient Maya times, but nobody seems to recall when seaweed shakes first became popular. They’re a particularly nutritious option among many refreshing beverages – such as Mariano Coc’s award-winning “traveler’s juice” – that can be enjoyed at cafes and bars around Belize. I recommend sampling new drinks in scenic locations like The Shak – a view of the expansive ocean or a tropical sunset is like the cherry on top!
Seaweed contains vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B6, niacin, pantothenic acid, and folic acid. This potent combination rarely occurs in land plants – look to the ocean for a nutrient cocktail in seaweed.
Seaweed is also high in calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc.
Scientists are researching a correlation between seaweed and longevity.
If you don’t live in a coastal area where raw seaweed is available, look for dried seaweed in Chinese markets and health food stores.
Seaweed is sold in sheets, capsules, or ground into powder.