Vegetables of the Sea
Seaweed. Icky, slimy, stinky, comes to mind for many. But sea vegetables aren’t so bad. You may not salivate when you hear the word, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Like land-grown vegetables, sea vegetables are low in calories and full of vitamins and minerals. Staples in Korean, Chinese, and Japanese, the $5 billion industry is slowly gaining acceptance in the Western diet.
What are Sea Vegetables?
Seaweeds grow in all oceans around the world. They play an integral role in the ecosystem of ocean coastlines. China stands as the biggest producer of edible seaweeds worldwide. Edible seaweeds are usually classified as green, brown, or red algae. The names of individual sea vegetables are more familiar to those who eat them on a regular basis. Some to look for are Wakame, Nori, Irish Moss, Kelp, Kombu, Dulse, Hijiki, and Arame.
Eat Your Minerals
Sea vegetables should be enjoyed in small quantities because of their high concentration of iron and iodine as well as their tendency to absorb heavy metals from the water it grows in. While there is variance in the amount of vitamins and minerals that seaweed contain depending on the type and location they are grown, sea vegetables generally have ample amounts of calcium, B-vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin A. A ½ cup serving will run you anywhere between 15 to 30 calories and you’re looking at a good amount of soluble fiber as well.
Sea Vegetables You Already Eat
Many Americans’ association with seaweed is from eating sushi, as it is used as a wrapping, and as an ingredient in miso soup. But what you may not know is sea vegetables are used widely as food additives. You may have seen what are known as hydrocolloids in the ingredient lists of many processed foods. Agar, alginate, and carrageenan are the most common. The foods you may be eating every day that include these food stabilizers include soy milk, ice cream, mayonnaise, processed meats, margarine, diet soda, and low-fat spreads.
What to Look For?
You may have to go to health food stores or Asian markets to find a variety of sea vegetables. Although available fresh as in seaweed salads, they are generally sold dried and then reconstituted in water for at-home cooking. There are also powders and flakes available to add to soups, stews, and salads. The dried varieties have an indefinite shelf life and maintain their nutritious qualities. Well-known brands in America include Eden Foods, Maine Coast Sea Vegetables and Rising Tide Sea Vegetables.
Would you try incorporating sea vegetables into your diet? Why or why not? If you have eaten them, what advice do you have for starting out?