It used to be that the only reason for bringing seaweed back from the beach was to hang it up as a DIY barometer but now you are more likely to find it on your dinner plate than your porch. Since Tesco started stocking fresh seaweed we seem to have developed quite an appetite for the slimy green and brown stuff.

Every week, the supermarket chain is selling 3,500 punnets of wild seaweed that it has specially imported from Brittany (apparently our sea isn't clean enough or supplies plentiful enough for it to be home grown).

And chefs like Heston Blumenthal from The Fat Duck in Bray reckon that seaweed has got much more than just a novelty factor.

"The thing about seaweed is that you can't really eat a big plate of it on its own but its very distinctive flavour means that it can certainly enhance a dish," he says.

One of Heston's signature dishes at his famous Berkshire restaurant is fine crab biscuits layered with foie gras, marinated salmon and crystallised seaweed with an oyster vinaigrette. Also popular is a potage of laitue de mer (sea lettuce) with poached oyster.

According to Lesley Ellis, author of a new book on seaweed, Simply Seaweed, out next April, we should start to see seaweed as just another ingredient that we don't think twice about using. "Seaweed should be like ginger or chilli," she says. "Something we have in the cupboard or the fridge and just use as and when."

Know your seaweed

Sea Lettuce One of the most popular and the most vivid. Its green feathery appearance makes it great for garnishes. Can be used to wrap fish or meat during cooking or marinated in lemon juice and olive oil and used in salads. You can pick sea lettuce in this country but watch out, Lesley warns. It likes to grow near sewage outfalls.

Dulce Because of its rich red colour this is very popular in many different dishes from soups and salads to pasta and works particularly well with chicken.

Laver This is the seaweed most commonly collected in South Wales and the South West. Laver bread, which is a sort of puree, is often sold in butchers shops and traditionally rolled in oatmeal and fried.

Where to get fresh seaweed

q Taste of the Wild, a company that specialises in wild food, offers seven different varieties of seaweed by mail order (0171-498 5397)

q Tesco: Sea Lettuce and Dulce at pounds 1.99

q Waitrose: Gormet Seaweed Selection pounds 2.49

q The Fat Duck, The High Street, Bray, Berkshire (01628 580333)