Discussing Sea Vegetables: Not Just Nutrient but Super Nutrient!

Generally speaking, sea vegetables are primarily eaten by people in the Asian community. Interestingly enough, we also find an absence of obesity and thyroid disease in this culture! Ever wonder why?

In view of our fever-pitched attempts to lose excess weight as well as the fact that so many of us take thyroid medications, it occurred to me that something is wrong regarding the general lack of interest in sea vegetables. Since doing this study, I’ll definitely be eating a great deal more seaweed! Hopefully, you’ll want to join me. (Smile)

My interest in researching sea vegetables started when I was cleaning out my cupboard. I found a package of dried dulse, carefully wrapped up and rubber banded. I had apparently used a little of it for some recipe in the past. What I since discovered in my inquiries into dulse and other precious sea vegetables is the enormous benefits of their unique iodine bioavailability and rich mineral content.Symbol for the chemical element iodine

To some degree I’ve known that sea vegetables are good for us. But really doing a solid study was an eye-opener as I learned so much more about the numerous super nutrients they offer. So read on, and hopefully the information and recipes will encourage you to start using sea vegetables daily in one way or another.

By virtue of their highly concentrated nutrition, sea vegetables (otherwise known as seaweed) can be used in small, affordable amounts. If you’re unacquainted with their taste, you can hide them unobtrusively 🙂 in soup stocks and side dishes until they become more acceptable and palatable.

In this quote from a SeaVeg.com publication titled A Food Service Guide to the Use of Sea Vegetables by the Nutritional Professional, we learn of the following health benefits of sea vegetables (emphasis mine):

Metabolism: “Because iodine can stimulate and increase metabolism, sea vegetables, with their naturally high amounts of iodine and other trace elements, are a traditional weight loss herbal remedy. Dietary sea vegetables could be part of a strategy to deal with the national obesity problem and the resultant huge public health costs.” [Personal note: Not to mention our own personal battles with excess weight that simply won’t budge!]

Osteoporosis and related fractures are noted public health problems. A 1999 study ‘investigated associations between dietary components contributing to an alkaline environment (dietary potassium, magnesium, and fruit and vegetables) and bone mineral density (BMD) in elderly subjects.’ The study supported the hypothesis that alkaline-producing dietary components, specifically potassium, magnesium, and fruit and vegetables, contribute to maintenance of BMD.

“Sea vegetables, rich in these nutrients and generally alkalinizing, could easily be a part of the solution to this public health issue.”

And in the following quote from the article “What’s New and Beneficial About Sea Vegetables” at whfoods.org, we learn more about how sea vegetables contribute to anti-inflammatory health and the body’s mineral content (all emphasis mine):

Anti-Inflammatory Health
“To understand many of the anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anticoagulant, antithrombotic, and antiviral properties of sea vegetables, you need look no further than their sulfated polysaccharides. These unique compounds (also called fucoidans) are starch-like molecules that are unusual in their complexity. Unlike many other types of polysaccharides, the fucoidans contain many chemical ‘branch points,’ and they also contain sulfur atoms. Multiple studies show anti-inflammatory benefits from consumption of the sulfated polysaccharides in sea vegetables.

Mineral Content

“Sea vegetables have been rightly singled out for their unique mineral content. You’re going to find measurable amounts of calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, vanadium, and zinc in sea vegetables, and in some cases (like iodine) you can simply not find a more concentrated mineral source. Brown algae like kombu/kelp, wakame, and arame can be particularly concentrated sources of iodine, and for some health conditions—like hypothyroidism, in which the cells of the thyroid make too little thyroid hormone—increased iodine intake can provide important health benefits. The wide variety of minerals found in sea vegetables is simply not found among most other vegetable groups.” 

A nice blog post regarding the specific health properties of Wakame comes from Balance Me Beautiful. Take a quick look to see how healthful it is.

 “The vanadium content of sea vegetables is an area of special interest with respect to their mineral content. While research in this area remain inconclusive, sea vegetables may be able to help us increase our cells’ sensitivity to insulin, help us prevent overproduction of glucose by our cells, and help us take existing blood sugars and convert them into storable starches. All of these factors would help us increase our blood sugar control and lower our risk of type 2 diabetes.”

Seaweed Buying and Storage

Look for sea vegetables in tightly sealed packages, and avoid anything that shows evidence of excessive moisture. Some types of sea vegetables are sold in different forms. For example, nori can be found in sheets, flakes, or powder. Choose that which best meets your culinary needs.

You should purchase certified organically grown foods, and sea vegetables are no exception. Repeated research on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchase of certified organic foods, including sea vegetables. If you’re shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown sea vegetables will likely display the USDA organic logo. Store sea vegetables in tightly sealed containers at room temperature where they can stay fresh for at least several months.

Seaweed Varieties and Recommended Sources

The Weston A. Price Shopping Guide is the best place to find high-quality, organic seaweed. The guide is available in print from Selene River Press or from your local WAPF chapter leader (learn more about WAPF at WestonAPrice.org). Or, if you like, you also have the option of downloading the Find Real Food Mobile app.

 Knowing there are virtually hundreds of varieties of sea vegetables—and also realizing how much space it would take to list them all—I spent many hours looking for just the right seaweed resource where you could find a brief description of each kind.Crispy dried seaweed on wooden plate

SeaweedPete.com is a recently approved source for the Weston A. Price Shopping Guide, and you can find that comprehensive seaweed list on their website. (You’ll also find a short, fascinating, seven-minute video at the top of the page. It’s worth a look-see, so don’t miss it.) Another recently approved source for the WAPF Shopping Guide is Ocean Harvest Sea Vegetable Company. They sell premium seaweed, and they even offer an Annual Seaweed Safari where you learn how to sustainably harvest, dry, and use seaweeds. Now that’s what I call a fun vacation!

 Yummy Sea Vegetable Recipes

 Personal note: Kombu, kelp, wakame, and arame are the four richest sources of iodine seaweed.

Fermented Sea Kraut
—Adapted from Fermentation Recipes (click on the link to see photo instructions).
Fermentation time: 2–3 weeks
Yield: 4 pints

Be sure to use fresh, organic cabbage here as the water content tends to be higher. This recipe calls for sea palm and dulce, but feel free to experiment with other seaweeds.

 Ingredients
2 heads green cabbage
1 medium golden beet
¼ cup diced sea palm
¼ cup dulse
2 tablespoons salt (use 1 tablespoon for each 1½  lbs. of cabbage/beet)

Instructions

  1. Clean the outer leaves of the cabbage, or peel and toss them if they have spots. Quarter the cabbage and then cut into thin ribbons, excluding the densest part of the core.
  2. Cut the beet into small cubes, approximately ¼x¼ inch.
  3. Cut the dried palm and dried dulse into small pieces (the exact size doesn’t matter, but it expands as it rehydrates, so smaller is better).
  4. Place cabbage, beet, and seaweed into a large bowl. Toss with salt. Mix well to distribute the salt somewhat evenly. Leave vegetables in the bowl until they begin to sweat and liquid pools at the bottom. Use your (clean) hands to squeeze the cabbage and help break down the structure of the cabbage a little.
  5. Place all ingredients from the bowl (including the liquid, which may be pooling at the bottom) in your fermentation vessel. (A single gallon Anchor Hocking cookie jar or a fermentation crock will both work.)
  6. Compress the ingredients in the vessel by pressing down gently with your fist. The goal is to compact everything until the liquid rises to cover the ingredients. Place a weight on top. (A fermentation crock should come with its own weights. If you use a glass jar, fill a plastic bag about two-thirds with water (be sure it doesn’t leak), and place it on top of the veggies. Best to remove the air from the bag when sealing so the shape conforms easily to the sides of the jar and forms a good seal.)
  7. Don’t fret if the liquid doesn’t rise up to sufficiently cover the vegetables. Just give it up to 4 more hours and compress again. If the liquid still doesn’t rise to cover, give it another 4 hours and compress again. If it still needs more time, add a little water (perhaps ½ cup or so). If you add water, it’s important to combine the entire mixture well to distribute the salt all throughout the liquid. (The fresher your ingredients are, the more liquid will naturally leach from the veggies.)
  8. Make sure to cover. The point of covering it is to keep germs and molds from entering your ferment while still allowing it to breathe. The plastic bag forms a good seal in this case, but cover with a cloth (or airlock) as well.
  9. Next, wait impatiently. You can start tasting the ferment after a week. You may leave it for up to 3 weeks. It generally comes down to taste with ferments. When it’s pleasingly sour and has a bit of a zing to it, it’s ready.
  10. Place in a jar and refrigerate. This will significantly slow the continuing fermentation.

Serving suggestions: This is excellent paired with seafood. You could dollop some on top of fish or serve as a small side salad. It’s also nice with a Vietnamese salad, served on top of brown rice. And you can always eat it straight from the jar when nobody’s looking.Dried seaweed in a food market in Madagascar

The Four Highest Iodine Seaweed Recipes and Ideas

KOMBU/KELP
—From Seaweed.net.

Kombu with Beans: Kombu does magic things with all types of beans, speeding cooking time, softening the beans, and thickening the broth. Kombu strips in beans become translucent, tender, and tasty. A long strip (4–6 inches) of kombu will be sufficient for a large pot of beans.

Kombu Soup: Add 1 oz. of kombu to 6 cups of water. Bring to boiling and either remove the kombu and serve (for a very delicate broth). Or boil for 30 minutes, cut the kombu into thin strips, return the strips to the broth and serve. Vegetables may be added to the broth during cooking. Serves 4-6

Covered Kelp Veggie Casserole
—Adapted from SeaVeg.com. For the vegetables in this casserole, choose 3 to 7 different of your favorites. You can use winter squash, delicata, or butternut squash; root vegetables such as carrot, turnip, daikon, burdock, parsnip, or onion; hearty vegetables such as cabbage, leeks, sweet potatoes, or yams; and fresh or dried mushrooms such as white cremini, shiitake, portobello, morel, maitake, or oyster mushrooms. Serves 4.

Ingredients
8 cups assorted veggies (see note above), cut into bite-size chunks
3–4 cloves garlic, diced (optional)
1 (5–6 inch) strip kelp
1 (1–2 inch) knob ginger, sliced (optional)
1 cup water
For garnish: scallions, parsley, edible flowers, and/or snippets of greens such as mizuna, mustard greens, and arugula

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place cut vegetables and garlic in a large bowl. Mix well to evenly distribute garlic.
  2. Use scissors to snip the kelp into 1×2-inch strips. Lay kelp on the bottom of the casserole dish.
  3. Add vegetables, ginger, and water.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the vegetables are tender and sweet.

Options: Add 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil and 1 teaspoon finely chopped dried hot pepper for a spicy dish. Add more chili pepper to increase the heat. To make a sweet and sour version, add 2 teaspoons rice syrup or organic raw honey, 2 teaspoons rice vinegar, and 2 teaspoons Red Boat Fish Sauce.

WAKAME/ALARIA
—Excerpted from SeaVeg.com.

Alaria esculenta: OCIA Certified Organic and a Raw Food

Our Alaria (Alaria esculenta) is biologically and nutritionally so similar to Japanese wakame (Undaria pinatifida) that we refer to it as “Wild Atlantic Wakame.” Alaria provides a more wild yet delicate taste and needs a longer cooking time than wakame. It is our preferred sea vegetable for miso soup. Its mild flavor profile allows it to blend in with many other ingredients without overwhelming them.

Whole Leaf Alaria can be marinated, blanched, or steamed for use in salads or quick roasted and enjoyed as “chips.”

Powdered Alaria is a great addition to green drinks (try mixing it with kelp and dulse powder) or any energy drink that needs mineral fortification (particularly calcium). It is also delicious added to your favorite soup recipe, or simply add it to a cup of hot water for a mineral-rich broth.

Alaria is a good dietary source of vitamin A (beta carotene), iron, potassium, magnesium, chlorophyll, enzymes, trace elements, vitamin Bs, and dietary fiber.

ARAME

Arame with Sautéed Carrots, Onions, and Sesame
—Adapted from Amy Chaplin. This will keep 4 to 5 days stored in the refrigerator. Makes about 6 portions (1½ cups each).

Ingredients
1 cup dry arame seaweed, loosely packed
1 medium to large carrot
1 tablespoon unrefined, untoasted sesame oil
1 medium red or yellow onion, sliced
¼ cup filtered water, plus more for soaking
1 tablespoon mirin or substitute
1–3 teaspoons fermented fish sauce (I recommend Red Boat Fish Sauce)
Few drops toasted sesame oil or hot pepper sesame oil (optional)

Instructions

  1. Cover arame with filtered water and soak for about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Cut the carrot on a diagonal into 1/8-inch slices. Spread flat lengthwise on cutting board, overlapping by half an inch. Slice into 1/8-inch slices to form matchsticks.
  3. Warm sesame oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add carrots and continue cooking for another few minutes. Once they begin to soften, stir in arame.
  4. Stir in water, mirin, and fish sauce. Raise heat to high, bringing to a boil. Cover, leaving a 1-inch gap to allow some steam to escape as the arame cooks.
  5. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove lid and stir. Most of the liquid will have evaporated. Continue cooking until you get desired moistness. Add toasted or spicy sesame oil to taste, then stir and remove from heat.
  6. Allow to cool to room temperature before eating. Store in the refrigerator in a glass jar or container.

An Afterthought from the Traditional Cook…

Natures Guide
Wellness comes forth
Through the waters
Swells in harmony
With the pulse of the
Earth’s throws, towards
Sandy edge, catching
Seaweed, shells, rocks
And rolls in constant
Whilst, the energy flows
Out to all those who
Stand before thee
And knows, God
Karen Hakes Brown

AUTHOR’S NOTE

To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:

  • chemical- and hormone-free meat
  • wild-caught fish
  • pasture-raised, organic eggs
  • whole, unrefined grains
  • virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
  • whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
  • pure, clean, spring water
  • sea salt
  • raw and/or cultured milk and cream products

Note from Maria: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor prior to following any recommendations I make in my blogs or on my website.

Photos from iStock/Fudio (main photo), Zerbor (iodine symbol), Amarita (crispy seaweed), jordieasy (seaweed at the market) 

Maria Atwood, CNHP

Maria Atwood is a semi-retired Certified Natural Health Professional and Weston A. Price Chapter Leader in Colorado Springs, CO. Her website, Traditional Cook, offers the The Lee Household Flour Mill, originally invented by Royal Lee, inventor of Standard Process Supplements. She also carries the WonderMix mixer as well as the Wondermill grain mill. Also check out Maria’s “Cook Your Way to Wellness” DVD (also available on Vimeo). Be sure to join the Selene River Press newsletter to follow Maria’s Tips from The Traditional Cook blog.

Related Topics

organic food | whole food nutrition | whole food recipes

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