You know it as a superfood, you’ve read about it, seen it in its various forms for sale online or at the grocery store. Many of us are most familiar with seaweed as nori, the paper thin version that wraps up our yummy maki rolls at the neighborhood sushi bar. Or maybe it’s the neon-green, artificially colored and preserved “seaweed salad” that’s mass packaged in ready-to-serve form, dolloped onto a little plate as a prelude to our maki rolls.
Unfortunately, those glowing green processed threads that look like they came from the planet Krypton is what first pops into many of our heads when someone mentions “seaweed salad”. Thank goodness there is a pure and Earthly world of sea vegetables available right under our noses that are not only magnitudes better for our bodies, they are absolutely, worlds-away more delicious!
I receive many questions asking, “What the heck do you do with that stuff? I’m kind of afraid to try it!” After all, when we think “seaweed”, we think of those yucky clusters of mossy mess or slimy strands that wash up on the shore or brush by our skin when we’re swimming in the ocean. Well, sea vegetables needn’t be scary or intimidating. And they are actually not weeds or even plants, as they are really classified as algae.
I am very enthusiastic about spreading the word on the benefits of sea vegetables and cannot emphasize the value of these superfoods enough. As a Florida native who was raised loving and living near the ocean, I have long known of its powers of vitality and renewal long before I even thought of eating seaweed. As I’ve spent countless time snorkeling, diving, surfing, swimming, and boating, it is enthralling to experience how the salt water has an almost mystical effect on hair, nails, and skin. Hair becomes shiny, glowing, and full of body; nails become strong and even undergo a rapid growth process; the skin is softer, smoother, firmer and more toned. And this is only aesthetically speaking, of course. The reasons for this are not just as simple as salt water.
The amounts of minerals in their high concentrations found in the sea far surpass that which is found on land in any one plant, and these minerals also represent as a whole, the most vital and complete combination for human beings. Now imagine concentrating all of this life-giving magic and compact it into an edible form!
Incorporating Japanese Sea Vegetables into your diet:
- Provides the most complete range of minerals of any food, particularly iodine, magnesium, vitamin K, calcium, iron, and B-vitamins riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and folate.
- Contains virtually all of the minerals of the ocean that, in very similar concentrations, are also found in human blood.
- Is an excellent source of lignan, a plant compound with anti-carcinogenic properties.
- Has been shown to remove radioactive strontium as well as other heavy metal toxins from the body.
- Promotes overall optimum health, including healthy thyroid function, prevention of cardiovascular disease, protection against birth defects, and has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Balances acidity in the body, as seaweeds are highly alkaline.
- Are very filling and satisfying, which aid in natural appetite suppression, balances daily dietary intake, and assists the body with weight loss efforts.
- With daily intake will naturally result in all of the fantastic fringe benefits of beautiful hair, skin, and nails.
So what are the most common types of sea vegetables, and what do you do with them? Keep in mind that like many creative raw dishes, your imagination is the limit. Don’t be afraid to experiment. While some sea vegetables are cultivated, most are collected in the wild. Not all are available in raw form, such as arame or hijiki, that must be steamed to be tenderized before finally drying.
But this should be not an obstacle to the dense, nutritional benefits. Here is a list that should help get you started, along with the most common uses.
Arame: A cold water, brown algae that is cultivated off the coast of environmentally protected Ise, Japan. It is the most mild tasting of all the sea vegetables and makes it a great beginner product. It takes only minutes to reconstitute and is excellent in salads. Arame is rich in fiber, vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium.
Wakame/Alaria: These dark, greenish-brown plants are similar in character, but wakame is a Japanese variety that is often cooked before being dehydrated. Alaria is grown wild in the Atlantic and is sun-dried in its natural state, making it a better choice for raw. It is extremely high in both dietary and soluble fiber, chlorophyll, enzymes, beta carotene, B-vitamins, calcium, iodine, iron, protein, and many other vitamins and minerals.
Dulse: Another naturally dried, enzyme active plant that is incredibly high in nutrients. This reddish plant has a very chewy texture, and rich, salty taste. It can be soaked to soften, or snipped into salads as-is. Some like to eat it as a snack right out of the bag.
Hijiki/Hiziki: Dark-brown to black in color, similar to arame in appearance and cooking/dehydrating processes, it grows wild in the pristine, coastal arctic currents off the coast of Japan. Many sushi bars serve a very processed version of hijiki as an alternative to the bright green mystery “seaweed salad”. It has a sweeter, more distinctive flavor than any other sea vegetable and is also the highest in calcium.
Nori/Laver: We know nori as the Japanese-originated thin sheets used to make maki rolls, which can also be of cultivated origin. Laver are the unsheeted whole, wild plants with a distinctive nutty flavor. Look for raw nori sheets (if the package doesn’t say raw, consider them not to be) that are nearly black in color, and laver that has been dried at low temperatures and enzyme active. Noth nori and laver are the highest in B-vitamins 1 (thiamin), 2 (riboflavin), 6, and 12, as well as vitamins C and E.
Kombu: Wild-harvested both in Japan and the north Atlantic, kombu has been commonly used in the macrobiotic diet to tenderize beans and brown rice during the cooking process, and render them more digestible. It is the most tough and chewy of the sea vegetables, therefore would have to be soaked for a long period to tenderize. One of the most interesting uses for this seaweed is simmering it in a large pot of water for about 30-40 minutes, and then adding this water to your bath for a truly enriching seaweed treatment.
Irish Moss: A form of dulse that grows in the Atlantic off the west coast of Ireland. It is very diverse, as it can be used as a thickener, emulsifier, on the skin as a healing gel (when soaked and refrigerated), or eaten as a snack straight from the bag. It’s an excellent aid for preparing raw dishes that call for creaminess or thickening.
For thousands of years, sea vegetables have been a prominent part of some northern European and most commonly, eastern Asian diets, particularly the Japanese. Perhaps this has had a role in contributing to their longevity, beautiful skin, and shiny, thick hair, particularly before being affected by the influence of the Western diet.
But if you are one that just can’t quite yet stomach the thought of consuming a sea plant, supplement algaes such as spirulina, E3Live, and crystal manna are an excellent alternative, as they can provide similar benefits.
Personally, because I was raised so heavily on seafood, it was very easy for me to love sea vegetables. They even helped me to give up my love of fish and shellfish, because they mimic certain flavors of the sea but most importantly, they are much, much healthier!
I so strongly believe in the power of sea vegetables that I have committed myself to eating at least 2 to 3 servings a day for at least two months, until the time we leave for Europe in June. This is sort of my alternative to the ongoing juice feast that I am not quite ready to undertake. However, I urge everyone to somehow incorporate these superfoods into their daily diets!
Try these easy sea vegetable recipes!