People living near bodies of water throughout the world have consumed sea vegetables for thousands of years. In fact, there is archaeological evidence suggesting that Japanese cultures have eaten seaweed for over 10,000 years. Highly nutritious and known for their healing properties, sea vegetables are finding their way into health food stores and gourmet markets in the Western world and gaining popularity as a super food.
What are Sea Vegetables?
Commonly found growing on rocks or coral reefs, in salt water and in fresh water, sea vegetables are neither plants nor animals. They are classified as algae. Some can grow very deep if sunlight can reach them. There are many types of sea vegetables, also called seaweed, and they are classified into categories by color ranging from dark red to deep green to white, depending on the amount of light they receive. Each has a distinctly unique texture, shape and flavor.
Popular Edible Sea Vegetables
Nori: Also called laver, is reddish to dark purple or black. You can eat it fresh or dried. It’s most often used to make sushi wraps.
Hijiki: Purchased dried, hijiki has a strong flavor and resembles tiny black wiry pasta. It can be soaked and used in vegetable dishes. Some Japanese women have credited hijiki as their secret to beautiful hair and skin.
Dulse: A rose to brown-purple color, dulse, also known as sea parsley, has a soft, chewy texture when eaten fresh off the rocks. Or you can purchase it dried to add a salty flavor to food.
Kombu: Dried and sold in sheets, kombu adds a salty flavor to foods, especially soups.
Kelp: Also known as alaria or edible kelp, it is a light brown to dark green color and is available fresh or dried. Kelp can be marinated to eat in salads.
Wakame: This is used primarily to make Japanese miso soup.
Arame: Soak this fresh sea vegetable for 15 minutes before eating. Wiry and lacy with a milder, sweeter flavor, arame is eaten fresh in salads.
Irish Moss: Irish moss ranges in color from white to dark purplish red. The carrageenin in Irish moss is extracted and used as a thickener for a number of foods.
Agar Agar: Also used as a thickener, agar agar is more healthful than other traditional thickening agents.
Sea Lettuce: You can eat bright green sea lettuce fresh in salads.
Health Benefits of Sea Vegetables
- Sea vegetables are highly nutritious, offering a broad range of nutrients including: vitamin K, folate, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium.
- High in chelating agents, sea vegetables help remove heavy metals from the blood.
- Sea vegetables also provide a rich source of iodine which aids in thyroid function.
- Substances called fucans found in some sea vegetables can reduce inflammation.
A Word of Caution
Sea vegetables take up healthful minerals from the water around them, and unfortunately they also take up harmful elements from polluted waters as well. If you harvest your own sea vegetables, it’s best to carefully scrutinize your source. When purchasing, buy only those labeled “certified organic.”