Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Bullwhip Kelp Pickle Recipe

Collecting bull kelp

So you have collected the stipes and blades of bullwhip kelp. Before you knew it the cooler or tote had quite a bit in it! The blades will be dried, and then crumbled to fit easily into jars. The stipes will make several batches of pickles with some left over to add to dinner.

The kelp does not need to be rinsed, but if you do, then just a very quick freshwater rinse is enough. For pickles, peeling is optional. We like the unpeeled variety. If you would like peeled pickles, then a carrot peeler works well. The kelp is slippery at this point, so, if you want, then you can slide the stipe over a dowel to help stabilize it for peeling. 

Get your canning supplies ready to go: 

  • A large pot with a lid to process the jars in, and enough water to cover the jars by at least an inch
  • A small pot half full of water to simmer the lids in
  • A large pot to boil the kelp mixture in
  • Colander  
  • Clean, hot pint and/or half-pint jars (keep hot in simmering water or in the oven)  This recipe fills about six pints or twelve half pints.
  • Ladle, spoons, canning funnel, jar grabber, towels to set jars on, lid magnet, cloth to wipe rims, hot pads

If you haven't canned before then please check with your extension service or a reference like the Ball Blue Book of Canning to learn the basics.


Bread and Butter Kelp Pickles:  

  • 3 quarts bull kelp stipe sliced into 1/4" to 1/2" thick "O's"
  • 2 large onions chopped or sliced
  • 1/4 cup canning salt
  • 1 pint vinegar 5% acidity
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine kelp and onion in a large bowl. Sprinkle with canning salt, stir the salt through the kelp and onion. Let stand for one hour.  Rinse well with fresh water.

Get your big pot of water for processing going so that it will be at a boil when your jars are packed. Put new, clean jar lids in the little pot, and start bringing them up to a simmer when you start boiling the kelp.

Salt kelp and onions in a large bowl, let stand for an hour, then rinse thoroughly with fresh water.

Sugar and spice

Measure the sugar and spices, stirring the spices into the sugar to prevent any clumping. Combine sugar and spices with vinegar in a large pot and bring to a boil to make the syrup.

Add the rinsed, drained kelp and onions to the hot syrup and bring to a boil again.

When you first add the kelp to the syrup it will turn bright green! 

After boiling they won't be as bright.

Ladling kelp pickles into the jar. 

Pack the kelp and onions into a clean, hot jar. Use the back of a spoon to press the kelp in.  Ladle in syrup to within 1/2 inch of the top. If the kelp is packed loosely then you will run out of syrup before all of the jars are filled, so pack 'em in.

Wipe the rim, put the lid and ring on, and proceed to the next jar.

Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the bath, set upright about one inch apart on a folded towel away from drafts to cool. 

Check that all of the jars sealed. If any didn't seal then put them in the refrigerator and eat the pickles within a few weeks.

Label the jars with contents and date. 

The kelp pickles can be eaten right away, but the flavor is better after a week or so.  


Kelpy-O pickles

This recipe was modified from a recipe by Dolly Garza in a University of Alaska Sea Grant draft brochure. Thank you Dolly for the edible seaweed class and the recipe! Dolly Garza has retired from the University of Alaska, but her generous sharing of knowledge has continued to enhance the lives of many Alaskans.

For very detailed information about seaweed for food and medicine visit Ryan Drum's website and scroll down to the articles: 


Happy kelping!

Alaska Beachcomber

P.S. When mixing up canned salmon for salmon sandwiches, I like to chop the kelp and onion pickles in place of commercial relish! 


More on subsistence food and medicine:


Harvesting Bullwhip Kelp

I nibble on dried seaweed often, and my sweetheart and I eat bullwhip kelp pickles. This kelp provides precious trace minerals such as potassium, iodine, magnesium, and more. Bullwhip kelp is also high in protein and a good source of dietary fiber.

Bullwhip kelp, also called bull kelp, can be harvested in spring and summer, and sometimes there is good kelp available in the fall and winter. We like to gather it from the latter part of May through August.  It is best to go at low tide when more of the stipe is floating on the surface. Collect in areas away from sources of pollution.

Collecting kelp is easy if you have a skiff and if a bullwhip kelp bed is nearby. Bring with you a small knife and a cooler or clean plastic tote. Please don't use garbage bags for any food harvesting as they are often treated with chemicals (sometimes pesticides - yuck!) that are not food safe.

Bullwhip kelp (Nereocystis lutkeana)

Bull kelp can grow in dense forests, forming huge mats of kelp on the surface. Kelp forests are rich habitats for a great variety of organisms.  

Seagulls napping in a kelp bed. 

When you collect bull kelp bulbs and stipes (stalks) you are taking the reproductive portion of this large algae. Gather with restraint. It is easy to take more than you can use. Bull kelp must be processed the day of harvest or the next day, so reserve plenty of time for the project. 

Look for clean, firm, smooth stipes. The 'leaves' or 'fronds' are called blades. They are wavy and may feel kind of rubbery. Stipes and blades that have white splotches, tattered edges, or are not smooth and pretty are too old for harvest.

Smooth, firm, clean-looking kelp. 

It can help to use a gaff hook to get ahold of the kelp, but do so gently, as the kelp can break if jerked or bent hard. Pull the kelp up until the stipe is too thin for pickles or until you feel resistance.  Never pull the kelp until it's holdfast is separated from the ocean bottom. If you cut the kelp well above the holdfast then the kelp will regenerate.

A quick cut with the knife will separate the kelp.

Cut bullwhip kelp stipes. 

In a few minutes you will have plenty of kelp for the whole family!

The stipes and bulbs make great pickles and relish. The blades are dried for snacks, and to add to soups and casseroles as seasoning. 

The blades can be dried or cooked as-is, or given a very quick freshwater rinse. They can be eaten raw or added to stir fries or other dishes. To store kelp blades, dry in a food dehydrator or hang over a clothesline if the weather is dry and warm. I use a dehydrator, drying the kelp until it crumbles easily. I break it up, put it in a canning jar, and put the lid on tightly. You could also vacuum pack it.

Bullwhip kelp pickles

Bullwhip kelp pickles

There are many ways to use bullwhip kelp - stuffed and baked, candied, dried and ground to powder, stir fried - use your imagination. 

For excellent information about the nutritional and medicinal value of seaweeds visit Ryan Drum's website. Here is the link to his article on medicinal uses of seaweeds:


The recipe for bread & butter kelp pickles that we make will be in the next post!

See you there, 

Alaska Beachcomber


More on subsistence food and medicine: