Seaweeds, also known as "sea vegetables" or "seagreens," are a current superfood trend, but they have been an important part of traditional diets for hundreds of years. Primarily consumed in Asian cultures, seaweed has also been eaten in coastal areas like Wales and Ireland. Highly nutritious and packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals, seaweed contains 10 to 20 times the minerals of land plants, and more minerals by weight compared to any other food. With high levels of calcium, iron, and iodine and a significant amount of protein (some varieties have as much protein as soybeans), seaweed is particularly good for vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based diets. Research shows that the bioactive compounds found in seaweed and seaweed extracts exhibit anti-viral, anti-tumor, and anti-inflammatory effects, making them beneficial and protective toward health.
Seaweed is an environmentally sustainable source of food with low impact on the planet. It grows easily without the need for land, freshwater, fuel, or fertilizer - and because it sequesters carbon dioxide, it may help to reduce ocean acidification. While most seaweed is grown and produced in Asia, it is increasingly being grown in North America and other Western countries. Seaweed is typically wild harvested or cultivated in onshore aquaculture tanks. Because seaweed absorbs toxins and heavy metals, it is important to purchase products that are grown in clean, pollution-free waters.
There are three main classes of seaweed: brown, green, and red. Most commercially available varieties are known by their Japanese names, due to their widespread consumption and production in Japan. Some examples include nori, arame, wakame, dulse, kombu, and hijiki. The flavor of seaweeds can range from nutty and mild, to spicy or briny. Seaweed contains glutamic acid, a natural version of monosodium glutamate (MSG). It is used as a flavor enhancer and a source of umami, the so-called fifth flavor which is also found in mushrooms, soy sauce, and Parmesan cheese. Seaweed can be rehydrated and cut into strips for salads, or cooked into grains, soups, and stews. Nori is commonly toasted and eaten as a snack or with sushi.
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