Happy Saturday everyone!
I hope you are enjoying the weekend thus far- and welcome back to the third post in the series Inside the Pantry of a Natural Foods Chef and Health Coach! Today’s topic: Sea Vegetables.
If you’ve ever enjoyed foods such as sushi or miso soup, or really any other Asian cuisine.. you my friend have consumed a sea vegetable! It may seem a bit odd to refer to “seaweed” as a sea vegetable, but like a vegetable grown in the ground, “seaweeds” are packed full of very special micro-nutrients that are important to have in your diet, and that is why they’ve earned the title sea vegetable. In reality, a sea vegetable is neither plant nor animal, but rather a form of alga!
Sea vegetables are grouped into three general categories: Red, Brown, and Green (no surprise here considering that’s probably what you see on the beaches if you’ve ever visited the ocean!!). Now one thing to note here is that although I reference the seaweed on the shores of our beaches, not all seaweed is meant to be ingested. Just as it goes for wild mushrooms, unless you are an expert in identifying wild species of sea vegetables, you’d better stick to the packages sold in grocery stores.
At this point you may be asking, well what varieties can I eat? So, here it goes.. the most commonly available forms of sea veg:
- Hijiki (see bottom of this post for information about health concerns surrounding hijiki)
- Kombu (a variety of Kelp)
Sea vegetables offer the largest range of minerals in any food, virtually all of the minerals found in the ocean.. which are conveniently the same minerals found in our blood! All are excellent sources of calcium (no milk mustache necessary!), iodine, sodium. Are a very good sources of folic acid and magnesium. And are good sources iron, potassium, riboflavin, and pentothenic acid (vitamin B5). Not to mention that sea vegetables contain good amounts of lignans, a plant compound with cancer-protective properties, and funcans, which can reduce the body’s inflammatory response!!!
- Arame: Contains protein, fat (alpha-linolenic acid.. aka a form of omega-3s), fiber,
- Kombu: Contains glutamic acid which acts as a natural bean tenderizer- sayonara discomfort (let’s be real, gas) caused by beans!
- Dulse: Contains protein, fat (EPA and DHA.. aka forms of omega-3s) and fiber.
Health Benefits (aka what the above does for you):
- Because sea veggies are rich in iodine, they can play a crucial role in supporting thyroid function because iodine is a precursor for making thyroid hormones.
- May also help prevent cancer by inhibiting lignans from the hormonal signaling of estrogen-dependent cancers.. aka the growth of vessels that feed cancer cells.
- As stated above, funcan helps reduce your body’s inflammatory response that occurs in our daily lives and from certain lifestyle choices.
- The folic acid and magnesium levels help act as an excellent protection for the heart and cardiovascular system.
- Magnesium and lignans relieve the symptoms of menopause.
- Pantothenic acid and riboflavin are B-vitamins which can help reduce stress and anxiety.
My favorite brands that are very reputable are Maine Coast Sea Vegetables and Seasonings, Eden Organics, and Emerald Cove. Sea vegetables are sold in airtight packaging, as you’ll see below they can be found in sheets, flakes, and powder/crushed, and can be purchased in the form that is most suitable for your cooking needs. They can keep for months if kept airtight without refrigeration or freezing. Once cooked, like many cooked foods, please use within 3 days.
- Arame: Sold crushed or full (which looks “stringy”, “lacey” or “wirey”). Sweet and mild in taste- great for people new to cooking with sea vegetables!
- Hijiki: Sold crushed or full (stringy, like the above arame). Strong flavor.
- Kelp: Sold in flakes or noodles. Medium taste
- Kombu: Sold in strips or sheets. Earthy flavor.
- Wakame: Sold in strips or sheets. Medium flavor.
- Nori: Sold in sheets or crushed/flakes. Mild in taste.
- Dulse: Sold in flakes and large pieces. Chewy texture and earthy in flavor.
Uses (most common, that is):
- Arame: Tastes great stir fried with other vegetables and served over brown or forbidden rice.
- Hijiki: Delicious in cold and warm salads.
- Kelp: You may remember from my first post that I love kelp noodles… well kelp noodles are a great way to add this nutritious vegetable to any stir fries or cold noodle salads that you may make! Or if you buy it dried add to salads or as a garnish to entrees.
- Kombu: Mostly used to season soups and beans. Every time you cook with beans you should add 1/2 piece (or about 3 inches) of Kombu to the pot at the same time as the beans (remember the glutamic acid from above!)
- Wakame: Most commonly seen in Japanese Miso Soup, this is great to add to all types of soups!
- Nori: Made famous by Sushi, nori is a great way to make hand held snacks and meals.. and they don’t have to be similar to sushi either! Use it like a wrap, add it like a piece of lettuce, or have fun making your own types of “sushi” with raw or steamed vegetables and condiments such as hummus or guacamole. Or crush up and add to salads.
- Dulse: Most commonly sprinkled on foods as a garnish or finishing seasoning such as on salads (and this is true for all sea veggies found in flake form!). Next time try to mix it with Himalayan Salt, a little truffle oil or salt, and high quality cold-pressed oil of your choice and drizzle over freshly popped popcorn (yum!). Take up the health notch another step and pop loose kernels via stove top cooking (not the aluminum “camping” packs you sometimes see on the ends of grocery store aisles, though!) and avoid the additives and microwave required by purchasing name brand microwave popcorn.
Safety Concerns: Sea vegetables have little to no safety concerns, although it has been reported that certain types of hijiki have been tested positive for levels of inorganic arsenic- the toxic form of arsenic. Food safety organizations have warned consumers to limit their consumption.
That concludes installment 3, or “What to know about adding sea vegetables to your diet”. I’d love to hear what you think, and am available to answer any questions. And as always, please feel free to comment any product/pantry item information requests you may have!
Series introduction: Inside the Pantry of a Natural Foods Chef and Health Coach