EDIBLE SEAWEEDS: Species, Properties and Benefits

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Eating sushi you may have wondered which seaweed were eating and what edible seaweeds are used around the world. The species of edible seaweeds are more than one might think, as well as the nutritional benefits that characterize them. Although seaweeds are known  for being an integral part of Chinese and Japanese traditional coastal cuisine, their use in gastronomy has evolved to make it a very popular ingredient these days.

Each species of edible seaweed is rich in specific nutrients such as antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and fibers. Many also have an important nutritional profile of proteins, possessing all the essential amino acids.

Although in the collective imagination seaweeds are not very appealing, in reality they are among the most nutritious foods that nature can offer and they are also very tasty. For those who follow a healthy and balanced life style, integrating them regularly in their diet can only bring benefits.

We can consider algae as vegetables rich in all the nutrients we are looking for. They are low in calories and have digestive, detox and antioxidant properties. Furthermore, unlike fish and shellfish, seaweeds seem not to assimilate pollutants.

SOME OF THE MOST COMMON EDIBLE SEAWEEDS

 

  • Kelp: the most commonly consumed algae naturally grows in shallow ocean waters where temperatures range between 6-15 °C. This seaweed has antioxidant, remineralizing, anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties, and find uses to regulate the functions of the metabolism.
  • Kombu: a very nutritious, voluminous seaweed with a fleshy consistency. They help soften foods and make them more digestible thanks to their glutamine acid content. For example, they are soaked with legumes to make them softer and more digestible.
  • Wakame: this seaweed is also a rich source of protein and is above all, the richest source of calcium. These characteristics make it particularly popular among athletes diet. The color varies from dark green to brown, develops into large leaves and grows in deep water. It is one of the main ingredients of the typical Japanese Miso soup, it can also be eaten raw after a short soak in water.
  • Arame: The last type of seaweed that belongs to the Kelp family is the Arame. Characterized by its dark brown color, It’s normally available dried, and it’s appreciated as an excellent source of iron and iodine. Should be placed in hot water a few minutes before being seasoned and served as a side dish rather than added to salads or soups.
  • Nori: yet another very popular seaweed, among those of the red algae group, Nori seaweed is the most popular. Well known for being used in Japanese restaurants to prepare Maki Sushi. Naturally sweet and has a meaty, flavorful texture that goes well with other sushi ingredients. If you have never eaten seaweed before, Nori could be the best choice to approach this amazing world. Nori seaweeds are rich in minerals and have the highest concentration of proteins among all edible species.
  • Dulse:  widespread along the rocky Atlantic coasts of the Northern hemisphere. It’s a very rich source of fiber can help keep our digestive system healthy. Unlike Kelp, Dulse has a salty taste and can be slightly chewy in texture compared to other species.
  • Hijiki:  available in its dried form, must be soaked before being consumed. Once rehydrated, they look like black spaghetti and can be used as decorative ingredients in various food preparations. Hijiki seaweeds are a rich source of calcium and dietary fiber, making a very healthy food also suitable for children. There are many preparations in which you could use Hijiki such as in salads and soups. In its dried form can be used to make tea rather than eaten as a healthy snack.
  • Kanten: they are red seaweeds with little to none proteins and calories contents, but very rich in minerals. Possibly you have already eaten this seaweed without knowing it. From its extracts is obtained the natural thickener Agar-Agar powder, which is an increasingly widespread natural gelling agent . Agar agar is an excellent plant alternative to gelling agents derived from animal waste.
  • Sea Lettuce:  one of the edible green seaweeds with a surprising resemblance to common lettuce. This seaweed is collected in rocky areas when the tide goes down. They are commonly used to wrap other food into rolls which will then be cooked.
  • Spirulina: a dark green micro alga that grows in fresh water. It carries important purifying and detoxifying properties. It has recently gain attention again although it’s been used for centuries. Today can be easily found in the form of powder, flakes and tablets as a food supplement. Spirulina can contain up to 60% in vegetable proteins.
  • Chlorella: another freshwater micro algae considered one of the first forms of life that ever developed on our planet. Just like Spirulina, contains large quantities of chlorophyll, vitamins and mineral salts, so much so that it is considered an effective food supplement.

There are many other species of edible algae traditionally consumed by our ancestors. Many believe that in the near future, seaweeds will play a fundamental role in human and animal nutrition, not only for climate and sustainability concerns. Many studies will be carried out to learn more in the years to come, but we can already enjoy the enormous benefits that all these algae are ready to offer!