Sea vegetables have been a staple in Asian cuisines for centuries and have also been popular in the British Isles, Canada and the Caribbean. As discussed in the previous lessons, some seaweed varieties are used as thickeners, stabilizers and additives to soak and cook beans. Sea vegetables are also a rich source of nutrients. Ounce for ounce they contain higher amounts of minerals and vitamins than any other type of food including significant amounts of sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iodine, phosphorus, iron and many other trace minerals naturally found in the ocean. Sea vegetables are also a very good source of vitamins A, C, E, and B.
The following are sea vegetables that are most often found in a natural products store:
Arame looks like black blades of grass and has a mild and sweet taste. It makes it a good choice for newcomers to sea vegetables and is best sautéed or stir-fried by itself or mixed with other vegetables. It is not a good choice for soups. Japan is the only significant producer of Arame where it is also used medicinally for treatment of the spleen, pancreas, female disorders, and high blood pressure.
Chlorella is an algae superfood that grows in fresh water. The whole plant is used to make nutritional supplements and for medicine. It is rich in chlorophyll and helps with removal of heavy metal and synthetic toxins from the body. Chlorella is often used for reducing radiation treatment side effects, stimulating the immune system, increasing white blood cell counts, preventing colds and slowing the aging process. It is also helpful for increasing good bacteria in the intestine to improve digestion, help treat ulcers, colitis, Crohn's disease and diverticulosis.
Why This Matters:
Some sea vegetables have a stronger flavor and texture than others that may seem strange to someone new to the category. Arame and Dulse are both mild and palatable choices to get started.
Dulse is a nutritional powerhouse containing beta-carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and most of the B vitamins, including B6, as well as high levels of iodine, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium and zinc. A quarter-ounce of dulse provides about 30 percent of the recommended daily allowance of iron, and one cup of dulse can provide 4 to 6 grams of protein. Dulse is a reddish brown color available in whole stringy leaves or powdered. The powdered form is often used as a condiment. Some eat it right from the package as a snack. It grows in the temperate to frigid zones of the Atlantic off the coast of Canada, Ireland, and Norway. Traditionally, dulse has been used to control parasites, treat scurvy and improve thyroid function. It has been clinically proven to possess antioxidant qualities.
Hijiki (Hiziki) is long black thin curls of sea grass that look like black twigs when dried. It remains black when cooked and expands to more than four times its size after soaking. Hijiki is grown on the coastlines of Japan, China, and Korea and is a staple in many dishes in these countries. Considered highly versatile, it is one of the most nutrient-rich foods, containing a wide array of minerals, dietary fiber, vitamin K, calcium, iron magnesium, and iodine. Hijiki should be consumed in moderation because it contains higher levels of inorganic arsenic, which if consumed in large quantities, can be toxic.
Kelp is the largest sea vegetable. The brownish, green plants grow all over the world and are widely used in a variety of forms. The kelp family also includes arame, kombu, and wakame, although these varieties are typically sold under their own names. Available in granules or tablets, kelp is highly mineralized including trace minerals, folate, B2, B5, Vitamin K, Vitamin E, iodine, copper, magnesium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, calcium, zinc, sodium. The granules may be used to replace salt. It is also used commercially as a thickener and an emulsifier. Kelp is high in iodine and is used medicinally for high blood pressure and disorders of the circulatory and nervous systems.
Kombu is edible kelp in the sea vegetable family Laminaria. It is dark greenish brown when dried, with thick, wide, leafy fronds, which have an abundance of essential minerals, vitamins and trace elements. Kombu also has natural glutamic salts which makes it an excellent flavoring agent and is used in many dishes with vegetables, herbs, spices and fish, and can be added to dried beans to help leach out gas producing properties, add flavor and tenderize the beans. Most kombu sold in stores comes from kelp farms and may be available fresh, frozen, dried or pickled. In addition to use for cooking beans, it is used to flavor a range of Japanese dishes.
Nori is dark green, dried seaweed that contains beta carotene, Vitamin C, folate, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, Vitamin E, iodine, copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, zinc, sodium, and Omega 3. Nori also contains taurine, which is documented to lower blood cholesterol, and contains no fat. It is made by shredding edible seaweed then pressing it into thin sheets. Most people encounter nori when eating sushi. Sushi nori is sold in large sheets ready to wrap around cooked rice or crumbled and used as a seasoning or condiment and added into soups, vegetables or grains. Nori is also toasted and eaten as a snack. Nori contains more Vitamin A than carrots and it is high in protein.
Why This Matters:
Sushi has become popular in the U.S. over the past several years, which provides retailers with a platform to introduce sea vegetables to the general public. Knowing the different varieties available and how to use them gives you and your store a competitive edge in customer service.
Sea Lettuce is green seaweed with ruffle-edged lettuce-like leaves that can vary from white to black when dried. It is often found off the coast of New England and has a distinctive flavor and aroma. It is better eaten raw than cooked, unless it is added to other ingredients. It is sustainably harvested and is very high in iron and protein (similar to dulse), iodine, aluminum, manganese and nickel. It provides significant amounts of dietary fiber and can retain important enzymes when properly dried at low temperatures in the sun.
Sea Palm is a sea vegetable that looks like a miniature palm tree. It's sometimes called American Arame and is unique to the Pacific coast of the US. High in trace minerals and marine saccharides, the sea palm "fronds" are picked, sun-dried and dried with their minerals and trace elements intact. It has a sweet, salty taste and can be added to soups or salads. It is used in all types of macrobiotic cuisine, and can be used in sautés, casseroles, beans, pickled or crispy toasted, added to trail mix or eaten as a snack.
Spirulina is blue-green algae that is considered a super food, rich in chlorophyll, easily digestible, which has immune booster, anti-fungal, and antibacterial properties. It is useful as a brain food and contains protein, GLA, RNA, DNA, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, folate, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin, copper, iron, sodium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, selenium, calcium, omega 3, and omega 6. Spirulina comes in a powder or in tablets. The best Spirulina is grown in controlled conditions and sold as organic, since non-organic spirulina grown in the wild can contain bacteria, microcystins, and heavy metals. Many green products contain spirulina and it is often used in smoothies.
Wakame (wah-ka-may) is a deep grayish-green sea vegetable that, when soaked, expands to about seven times its original dried size. The long fronds of wakame have a sweet flavor and a rich green color, containing beta carotene, Vitamin E, folate, B1, B2, B3, B5, B12, protein and Omega 3. Wakame from U.S. coastal waters is called alaria and is tougher than the Japanese harvested wakame. Wakame can be eaten raw as a snack, or added to stir fries, soups, or roasted and sprinkled on salads or stews to add necessary minerals to the diet.