Seaweed: More Than Good Seafood
A couple of weeks ago I met a friend for lunch to talk story about our families, health and life in general. When it was time to order, she opted for a seaweed salad as a starter, which was made with seaweed, vinegar, sesame seed oil, sugar and garlic. I thought she was absolutely crazy, but she claims she loves it and that it’s good for you. Although I eat sushi, I have never tried a dish that was mainly made with seaweed. In fact, if someone were to ask me what I find most bothersome about getting into the ocean, my answer would be seaweed. Wet, slimy, and tentacle-like, seaweed is the stuff I don’t want to step on, or get tangled in my hair or my legs for that matter. To me, it looks like some bizarre vegetation from another planet on steroids.
Usually, the thought of weeds isn’t appealing; but after our luncheon, I decided to learn more about seaweed and find out if it has any nutritional value, and why it could potentially be so important to our daily lives. Interestingly enough, my unwelcomed ocean antagonist has more benefits and uses than I could have ever imagined.
Seaweed is a type of algae and is believed to have existed in ocean waters for the past billion years—that’s right, over a billion years! They are primarily categorized into three distinctions: green, red, and brown algae. While the term “weeds” often makes us think of the unwanted plants we find overtaking our gardens, seaweed is in fact simpler and more primitive in structure than their dry land counterparts. Like many land weeds, seaweeds are photosynthetic, which means they rely on the sun and often dominate rocky areas and some tidepools where they are close to the surface of shallow waters. The people of Japan, Korea, and China have been harvesting seaweed as a food source since prehistoric times, and several writings from the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. tell us how Chinese civilizations included seaweed in their diet. But, that’s not all—from the ancient Greeks to Romans and to the people of Scotland and Ireland in the Middle Ages, seaweed was viewed as an excellent food source and valued for its multiple uses. So, while many, like myself, find seaweed an uncommon food, the truth is that mankind has been enjoying various types of this ocean algae for centuries past.
There are a variety of ways to prepare and eat seaweed; perhaps the most familiar and common use is in sushi. Nori is a type of red algae (Porphyra) that is prepared in a process similar to papermaking. The finished product is a thin, paper-like wrapper that is used to make sushi rolls, Spam musubi and onigiri (rice balls). Many Asian foods include seaweed as a main component, garnish or flavor-enhancer for various dishes such as soups, stews and rice dishes.
In the United Kingdom, seaweed is thoroughly washed and cooked for hours to produce a very dark, spinach-like puree to make laverbread. A Welsh delicacy, laverbread contains iodine that creates a flavor similar to that of olives and is traditionally served with toast or rolled in oatmeal and fried and eaten with bacon and cockles. It is historically a breakfast food, though in recent times, laverbread is included in pastas with other seafood and even on pizza!
Besides its culinary aspects, seaweed is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein, and is valued for its nutritional content. Nori contains one and a half times more vitamin C than oranges and laverbread is rich in protein and carbohydrates, as well as vitamins B, B1, B2, A, and C. Seaweed contains a high content of daily essentials so when it comes to getting the most from the foods you eat, these greens are at the top of the list.
With both food benefits and nutritional value, could there be more? The answer is yes. Research suggests that the iodine content in seaweed may help in the prevention and treatment of thyroid gland issues, such as enlargement of the thyroid gland, which is important since hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency are associated with a higher incidence of breast cancer. Iodine was one of the first minerals recognized as essential to human health—key functions include strongly influencing metabolism, detoxification, and nerve and muscle function. Not to mention, it also supports the healthy growth of nails, hair, skin, teeth and mental development.
There are numerous studies linking a variety of seaweeds to the treatment of cancer and even ancient medical textbooks from China, India, and Egypt recommended brown seaweed for the treatment of its symptoms. In Japan, researchers have found a substance called fucoid It is evident that seaweed is one of the most underrated products in the world. I considered it nothing more than aquatic vegetation, an unwanted growth that I would rather stay as far away from than pay attention to. But seaweed, in fact, plays a subtle yet prominent role in our daily lives. Given that it is inexpensive and easy to come by, it is beyond a doubt that the benefits from seaweeds are more than enough to consider and its availability is of great essence. Part food, part medicine, and part health and beauty, seaweed is more than a welcomed guest!
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