Ocean vegetables are now one of the most important foods available on the planet. They help improve health, restore depleted mineral levels, support the many people suffering from thyroid gland disease, and provide an alternative food in our increasingly hazardous environment Sea vegetables are especially worth considering as a food source due to the sad state of ocean fish, in some cases laced with dangerous levels of mercury and other toxins. There may be a day in the not-so-distant future when sea vegetable are the only food from the ocean that is safe to eat.
Ocean vegetables are valuable for restoring a healthy gut, our inner terrain, as they naturally control the growth of pathogenic bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Most of us have been eating foods grown in mineral-deficient soil for the majority of our lives. Ocean vegetables are rich in minerals and trace elements that are deeply lacking in today’s diet. They are easily assimilated by the body, inexpensive, and delicious once you learn how to prepare them. They are key to restoring and maintaining proper acid/alkaline balance in the body.
Here are some of the better-known sea vegetables:
Agar is made from several members of the red algae family. Naturally produced agar can be found in natural food stores as bars, flakes, or powder. Less expensive chemically extracted agar is also available in Asian markets. Colorless, odorless, and almost tasteless, agar is high in calcium, iodine, trace minerals, and fiber, but contains no calories. It produces a firm gel that melts less easily than gelatin and is completely vegetarian.
Alaria or wild Atlantic wakame has beautiful olive brown fronds (leaf-like growth that performs photosynthesis and stores nutrients) with a golden center, which grow from 6 to 12 feet long. Alaria is the perfect sea veggie for soups, particularly miso soup. It’s very similar to Japanese wakame but takes longer to cook (20 minutes). Alaria is great pressure cooked, soaked (12 hours), or marinated (12 hours). Nutritionally, it’s comparable to whole sesame seeds as far as calcium content and has high vitamin A content similar to parsley or spinach.
Arame grows as wrinkly 12-inch fronds well below the low tide line in coastal Japan. Arame looks similar to hiziki, but has a finer texture and milder taste. Arame cooks quickly and is very succulent, easily absorbing the flavors with which you season it. You can soak it for a few minutes, drain it, and then add to any salad or dressing. You can also soak or marinate arame, and use it as a base for a great salad, or to spice up a stir-fry. It makes a nice addition to any soup giving it an ocean accent. Add it while cooking grains a few minutes before the grains are finished. Arame is a great source of chelated, colloidal calcium.
Dulse has reddish purple, hand shaped fronds 6 to 12 inches long. Dulse is hand picked from the lower inter-tidal zone from June through September. It is then sun dried to a semi dry chewy state. You can enjoy dulse as a nutritious chew snack right out of the bag, or you can instantly tenderize it with a quick rinse and use it for salads and sandwiches. It cooks in 2 minutes and adds a distinct, tangy taste to soups and stir-fries. Dulse is complementary to most potato or cheese dishes and is great with fresh fruit, salad greens, or in smoothies. You can pan-fry dulse to make tangy chips or use it as a bacon substitute in a DLT sandwich. Kids adore dulse! Dulse’s 22% protein content makes it higher in protein than chickpeas, almonds, or whole sesame seeds. It is relatively low in sodium and high in potassium. One ounce provides 100% of the RDA for iron, fluoride, and vitamin B6.
Hiziki are upright, many-branched, blackish brown plants grown near low water in Japan and China. Hiziki has a unique, mild, nut-like flavor and thick pasta-like texture. Hiziki is thicker than arame, and a bit stronger in flavor. To re-hydrate hiziki, soak it for about 10 minutes; the plants will expand 3 to 5 times their size. Once re-hydrated, it is easy to simmer, sauté, or steam with other vegetables. Hiziki turns jet black when cooked and makes an attractive garnish or side dish. After soaking, you can also marinate hiziki, serve as-is or with a salad. Hiziki has the highest calcium content of all sea veggies. It is also high in iron and B vitamins.
Kelp or wild Atlantic kombu has 3 to 6 foot hollow stipes (stem-like supportive tissue) and 4 to 8 foot broad, golden fronds. It is cut by hand from the sub-tidal zone from April through July. Kelp is hung up to dry one blade at a time! It is great roasted, pickled, boiled, sautéed, and marinated. Kelp blades are thin enough to tenderize quickly – a must for all soup stocks. Kelp helps tenderize and shortens cooking times, and increases digestibility when cooked with beans and legumes. It is exceptionally high in all major minerals, particularly calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron. Kelp is also rich in important trace minerals such as manganese, copper, and zinc. One ounce provides the RDA for chromium, instrumental in blood sugar regulation. It is extremely high in iodine.
Kombu is often grown on ropes in Japan and China. Kombu is composed of ruffled fronds up to 15 feet long and 1 foot wide. It is usually sun dried, bundled, and pressed to flatten then cut into 5-inch strips. Try roasting it in a 250ºF oven to tenderize before crumbling it into soups, stir-fries, and salads. Kombu is great in soup stock. Glutamic acid, a natural MSG found in kombu, makes cooking beans quick and easy. This natural form of MSG is chemically different from manufactured MSG and is acceptable for people with sensitivity to manufactured MSG. Kombu’s high manitol sugar content adds sweetness to its salty sea flavor. Kombu is especially high in iodine.
Laver or wild Atlantic nori should not be confused with the plant commonly known as “nori” which is grown on floating nets and processed into sheets. Laver looks like grayish-black popped balloons hanging on rocks or rockweed. The small circular fronds are easy to dry in the sun. Lightly roasting laver enhances its flavor and tenderizes it. Laver has a nutty, almost sweet taste due to the amino acids or protein it contains. Roasted laver is great crumbled into soups and grains, and sprinkled over salads and popcorn. Laver is a good source of protein, chelated manganese, zinc, copper, and fluoride. It is also high in B vitamins, vitamins C and E.
Nori is a green flaked sea veggie from Japan. Hybridized nori plants spore in tanks. The plants mature on suspended nets. Once harvested, they are chopped into a slurry and processed into a paper-like consistency for making into sheets. Japan, China, and Korea produce billions of sheets during the October and April seasons. Nori was traditionally used only for sushi; it is now used to wrap anything under the sun. See our recipe section for creative ideas of how to make quick and easy Candida safe meals using nori sheets. It has a mild, nutty, sweet taste, which is easy for anyone new to sea vegetables to like. Nori’s flavor is enhanced when toasted. Most of the nori sold in stores is pre-toasted. It is great slivered or crumbled over grains, stir-fries, soups, pasta, or salads. Nori sheets makes a tasty, nutritious snack right out of the bag. On Candida diets, Nori sheets make a great replacement for flour tortillas. Nori has the highest protein content of all sea vegetables – up to 35%. It is loaded with Vitamins A, C and B, and has low iodine levels.
Sea Palm has 2 foot, upright rigid strips topped with hanging corrugated fronds, like little palm trees. Its long, thin, grooved blades look very much like pasta. It thrives in the most turbulent surf of intertidal Northeast Pacific waters. Only part of the hanging fronds are cut, to insure re-growth and sustainability. Sea palm has a very mild taste for a sea vegetable, with a texture that is soft and crunchy. Presoaking reduces the cooking time considerably. Roasting in a low oven tenderizes and enhances the flavor. You can mix roasted fronds with almonds and walnuts for a great snack. You can also marinate sea palm overnight and add it to a salad or try as-is. There is no nutritional information available for sea palm.
Wakame has dark brown fronds 12 to 16 inches wide and 2 to 4 feet long. It is often blanched or par boiled to tenderize it before drying. It has a very mild taste and soft texture with a slightly crisp midrib. It is the traditional sea veggie for miso soup, but is also great in any long-cooking soup. You can marinate it for salads or add it to a sandwich. Wakame is second only to hiziki in calcium, and relatively low in iodine.
Note on iodine: One can get too much of a good mineral, namely iodine. Most of us need between 150 and 1,100 micrograms of iodine in our daily diets to keep our thyroids functioning properly. The exception is for those with sensitive thyroids, particularly nursing mothers or postmenopausal women, who may have adverse reactions to excess iodine. Healthy thyroids will “spill” excess iodine, but only you or your health practitioner can be the judge.
Interesting notes on seaweed:
- The minerals in seaweeds are in colloidal form, meaning they retain their molecular identity while remaining in liquid suspension. Colloids are very small in size and are easily absorbed by the body’s cells.
- Plants convert metallic minerals, which can be toxic, into colloids with a natural, negative electric charge. Negatively charged minerals have been shown to increase the transport and bioavailability of other foods and supplements.
- Minerals that are attached to other substances such as amino acids are also more bio-available. These are called chelated minerals. Seaweeds provide all of the 56 minerals and trace minerals required for your body’s physiological functions in chelated, colloidal forms.
- The decline in the nutrient quantity in our foods is due to the poor quality of our soil; minerals from our soil end up in the ocean, where seaweeds incorporate them into chelated, colloidal compounds ready for our mineral-deprived bodies. The protein availability in seaweed is notably high.
- Sea veggies are fabulous for weight loss. They contain hardly any fat or calories, they are a quite filling, and the extra iodine stimulates the thyroid gland to burn more fat.
- Other uses include aiding plant growth, skin and hair care, medicinal applications, and animal nourishment.
Advantages of presoaking sea vegetables
You can simply cut up dried sea vegetables and add them to the soup pot, but you can presoak sea vegetables for anywhere between 1 minute to overnight if you like. The longer you presoak sea vegetables, the shorter the cooking time. The longer the soak, the more minerals dissolve into the soaking water, which you add to the soup like a rich soup stock. If you do not add the soaking water, your soup will taste less salty and may need more miso or other seasonings.
How to pre soak sea vegetables
Simply put them in a bowl or mug, cover them with water, and let them soak. Up to 15 minutes of presoaking is long enough to soften seaweeds so that you can easily chop them up like a bunch of greens before simmering them.