What Is Seaweed?
It’s slippery, it’s slimy, it’s green…but it’s also a part of the super-food brigade. We are talking about the healthy and humble seaweed, which has been around for centuries but has gained worldwide popularity over the past couple of years only. Seaweed is also known as Macroalgae in the scientific world and is at times referred to as sea vegetable.
Asian countries like Japan, Korea, and China have had seaweed as part of their staple diet for a very long time now.
Not many of us are aware that almost seventy percent of the world’s oxygen comes from seaweeds and other microscopic algae. Seaweeds have a tremendous growth rate amongst the organisms on Earth. Other conditions being optimal, the giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera, which is a type of seaweed, can grow nearly a meter a day going up to as high as 50 meters.
There are currently at least 10,000 known types of seaweed but only a handful of them are used as part of food all across the globe today. The most popular among them is the nori, which is used in its dried form, for wrapping up a sushi which is a common Japanese dish.
Other common varieties of seaweed include dulse, arame, wakame, kelp, and spirulina. Seaweed can be subdivided into categories on the basis of their pigments, cell structure, and other traits.
The categories include:
|Green||sea lettuce or ulva, and sea grapes|
|Brown||kombu, arame, kelp, and wakame (the miso soup seaweed)|
|Red||dulse, laver, and nori (the sushi seaweed)|
|Blue- Green||spirulina and chlorella|
Where To Get From
Supermarkets and gourmet food stores that stock up on imported food items are the places to look for seaweed in India. If you like to experiment with your food you can try a few varieties first to zero in on the one that you like. Some varieties can be had as is, which means that they are ready to eat in their raw form. Other types of seaweed need to be soaked for a while in order to soften them.
Nori is the seaweed type that is commonly found in most food stores these days.
How To Use This Marine Algae?
Seaweed is giving kale a run for its money in the US and is now being touted as the ‘new kale’. It is now the highlight of a menu in many top-rated restaurants that you frequent, especially if you are in certain parts of the world where it is heralded as ‘the food to have’. In countries like Japan, Scandinavia, Wales and other parts of Britain, Caribbean, China, Japan, South Korea, and other Asian countries seaweed is a part of traditional cuisine like sushi.
Some of the benefits of eating seaweed and the various ways of eating it are:
- Kelps are usually dried into sheets and added during cooking. When having it raw, it is soaked in water for a while to soften it.
- Nori, the most popular variety of red seaweed is used as a wrapping for sushi
- Kombu and wakame are brown kelps that have a strong and mineral-rich flavor which adds a depth to miso soups.
- Arame, a kind of kelp, is slightly sweet in taste with a firm texture. It is used in baked goods to harness its sweetness and also in smoothies.
- Seaweeds are also used in the form of flakes or granules and are increasingly being used as a salt substitute as well.
- Innovation in food has led to dishes like Kelp noodles, which are gluten-free and can be had raw. Not only are they low in calories but are high in calcium.
- Dulse, a red seaweed variety, because of its softer and chewy texture is commonly eaten in dried form as crisps. They offer a healthy snack alternative.
- It can be toasted as chips and had as a condiment
- It can be used as a topping on sandwiches
- Seaweed is now also commercially available as salad dressing and marinade.
- When used in certain dishes, seaweed adds the umami to food. Umami, in the world of food, is considered the fifth sense after sight, hearing, touch, and smell. Seaweed with its high glutamate content which is an amino acid, adds this umami to food. Interestingly, the amino acid is vital for the effective functioning of the human brain. Dashi, which is a Japanese broth and a frontrunner in showcasing umami, uses seaweed as a key ingredient.
- Benefits of dried seaweed are equivalent to those of raw seaweed. In dried form, it can be added to a raw vegetable salad or crumbled and sprinkled over salads as a seasoning. Dried seaweed nutrition can be derived from strips or sheets that are enjoyed as snacks.
- Seaweed diet includes eating it with fresh and raw vegetable juice
Seaweed Salad Benefits
This super-food can also be made into a sumptuous salad which enhances the nutritional value of seaweed. Is seaweed salad healthy for you? The answer is a definite yes. One cup of seaweed salad contains 130 calories, 25 grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber and almost 900-1200 mg sodium. This is equal to half of a whole day’s sodium requirement of the human body.
One of the recipes for seaweed salad is given below:
The salad includes raw seaweed with stevia, rice vinegar, and lemon juice. You can also add some nonpasteurized soy sauce called tamari, for extra nutrition. Add some raw sesame oil and sesame seeds to it as well.
Now combine this dressing made using stevia, oil, soy and lemon juice with the seaweed and sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds on top for that added crunch.
Some seaweed salad nutrition facts are:
- It helps in weight loss and provides minerals and vitamins to the body
- The fiber in seaweed salad has the ability to block more than 75 percent of the fat intake
- Seaweed salad has a high content of sodium and sugar and thus should be had in moderation
With its high nutritional value, health benefits of seaweed are aplenty.
Following are some of the seaweed nutrition facts:
- Seaweed is believed to increase the life expectancy, immunity, and cardiovascular activity of the body if consumed on a regular basis. A supporting fact to this hypothesis is the high life expectancy of the Japanese who have had seaweed as a regular staple for many years.
- The goodness of seaweed can be attributed to the presence of a polysaccharide known as fucoidans, which is behind these incredible health benefits. Fucoidans have antiviral activity and help in reducing human colon cancer cells.
- Seaweeds can also be used to lower the blood pressure and promotes heart health.
- Seaweed contains the antioxidant vitamins C and E, along with a wide range of phytochemicals, like polyphenols. It is also rich in fucoxanthin which is a type of carotenoid.
- Many varieties of seaweed are a source of omega-3s
- Seaweed has a high content of fiber which aids in weight loss as fiber makes you feel full for a long time. Dulse seaweed has almost 5 grams of fiber and kombu contains more than 6 grams per 3.5 ounces and all of it is a soluble form of fiber.
- Alginate, another seaweed variety blocks the absorption of fat in the digestive tract. It is the active ingredient in several antacids because of its attribute of treating heartburn.
- Agar, carrageenans, and other polysaccharides found in seaweed are sources of fiber. They also have prebiotics, which benefits the good bacteria (microbiota) in the large intestine.
- Being a rich source of a gamut of minerals like calcium, copper, iodine, and iron there are several seaweed nutritional benefits. It is a storehouse of protein, fiber, vitamins, especially vitamin K and folic acid. Vitamin K helps in alleviating the problems of blood clotting.
- All this goodness and seaweed still ranks low in calories and fat.
- Red seaweedlike nori has up to 50 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces
- Seaweed nutrition is also derived from Kale, a type of seaweed which is a rich source of several vitamins, including vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and B vitamins.
Why Is Seaweed Good For You; Some Other Benefits
- It can be used as fertilizer, compost for landscaping, or as a means of combating beach erosion by planting it near the shoreline
- It is used as an ingredient in cosmetics, paints, and toothpaste
- It is sometimes used to build roofs on houses in countries like Denmark
- Seaweed benefits for skin have made the cosmetic companies use this wonder ingredient in their skin and hair products. It has hydrating, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory properties. The amino acids, vitamins, and minerals present in seaweed fight everything from acne to aging. Seaweed with its unlimited benefits not only keeps your insides healthy but also keeps your outside beautiful.
Seaweed has a high concentration of some nutrients, which, if had in excess can cause health issues.
- Vitamin K found in some seaweed varieties, if consumed in excess, can interfere with blood thinning and anti-clotting medications.
- Seaweed varieties having high potassium content may aggravate an already existing kidney problem
- The iodine in seaweed is beneficial for thyroid problems but only if consumed in limited quantities.
- More often than not, the water in which seaweed grows is contaminated with substances such as arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, or other heavy metals. Seaweeds easily absorb and store the contaminants and pollutants if any, present in their environment. They have imbibed this attribute from fish and shellfish. Having contaminated seaweed can cause arsenic-related issues.
- Seaweed contains a certain type of bacteria which are difficult to digest by the human body. These carbohydrates, such as carrageenan and agar are often used as a stabilizer in foods. It can cause inflammation of the gut in persons who are allergic to it.
Kelp Vs Seaweed
Despite the fact that kelp belongs to the seaweed family, it presents several differences with seaweed when analyzed closely. Kelp is a source of soda ash which is produced by the burning of kelp. This property is not present in any other variety of seaweed. Kelp also offers certain other uses which are not present in seaweed in general.
Alginate, which is a carbohydrate found in kelp, is used as a thickening agent in ice cream, and other products. Agar found in kelp is used in several cuisines as a stabilizer.
Another type of seaweed that is fast gaining momentum is spirulina. It is a natural “algae” (cyanobacteria) powder high in protein and a good source of antioxidants, B-vitamins, proteins, amino acids, and other nutrients. Non-contaminated spirulina is a remarkable source of nutrients.
Vegetarians prefer spirulina because of its high natural iron content. The high iron content makes spirulina an ideal food for pregnant women and persons suffering from poor immunity. Spirulina is generally consumed in the form of powder or capsules.
Seaweed is paving its way into the healthy foods list at a fast pace because of the numerous and varied benefits offered by it. It is a collection of nutrients and proteins and including it as a part of the diet ensures a healthy way of life.