A man named Rory MacPhee was just granted the first license in England to gather and sell “sea vegetables” including seaweed. Previously, collecting and selling seaweed was, technically, against the law, due to concerns about safety and sustainability, says John Wright in the Guardian. But he notes that, with proper oversight, the “careful collection of this much neglected resource” is now possible; it might also be, in the words of an aquaculture official, a way to “make a viable contribution to the local coastal economy without damaging important natural ecosystems.”
Seaweed soup — made by my grandmother in one of her immense pots or splashed into bowls by waiters at restaurants — was a common feature of my childhood. The word from my grandmother was that seaweed was good for us but my six-year-old self just liked the taste. Here’s five reasons to include some seaweed, foraged or purchased in a package, into your diet:
1) It’s really good for you. Seaweed contains carbohydrates, proteins, minerals and vitamins and, in some cases, traces of iodine. One type of seaweed, dulse, contains all trace elements that humans need and is also a good source of protein.
2) It could be “green gold.” Seaweed has found its way onto the menus of celebrity chefs due to whom, says the Telegraph, seaweed prices are on the rise. Dr. Craig Rose, the executive director of the Seaweed Health Foundation, says that, if seaweed could be collected in sufficient quantities from Britain’s large coastline, it could become an important export, with benefits for local economies.
3) Carrageenan, an additive processed from certain red seaweeds, is the only substance so far found that directly attacks the cold virus. While carrageenan has long been used as a thickener in Ireland and Scotland, the Guardian points out that it’s not a good idea to eat too many processed foods containing it, as the substance has been found to cause inflammation in rats.
4) It makes food taste good. Celebrity chef Herman Blumenthal has suggested adding seaweed to hospital food to make it taste better. While I suspect many of us would say that almost anything would improve the taste of hospital food, the seaweed kombu has been found to be particularly effective in creating “umami,” the Japanese for a “savory pleasant taste.”
Kombu is a rich source of monosodium glutamate (MSG) which is added to foods to make them “taste more as they should.” While MSG is often blamed for the rather queasy after-effects some have after eating food from the Chinese takeout around the corner, it is actually “one of the safest and best-studied additives used in food,” the Guardian points out (while attributing any post-Chinese-food discomfort to an excess of grease).
5) It’s the ancestor of all land plants. Seaweed has existed for more than a billion years and some 10,000 species exist, of which about 145 are edible by humans. It’s been eaten since prehistoric times and has long been part of the daily diet in China, Japan and Korea; laver is the basis for the traditional Welsh food, laverbread.
In other words, seaweed well merits making an appearance on your plate. For those of us who’d rather forego eating meat, seaweed — so many varieties being rich in protein – is the real “chicken of the sea.”
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