Seaweeds are packs of health coming from the sea. An integral part of some traditional cuisine like Japanese adds uniqueness, flavor, and nutrients from years till today. Here we will talk about three seaweeds, Nori, kombu, and wakame, for their uses and benefits. These are also cultivated in countries like Japan and Korea for a long period of years or centuries. These are used in various recipes like sushi, soups, salads, and more.
Seaweed: Information, Uses & Nutritional Value
Nori is the seaweed available as 7” x 8” inch sheets used for wrapping sushi rolls and onigiri rice balls.
- Nori sheets are green or red algae processed to make paper-like sheets. It is also available in other forms like flakes, strips, powdered and shredded.
- A better-quality Nori is smooth in texture with dark green color.
- The fresh seaweed is washed and chopped to get a watery mixture. This mixture is then spread and dried to get sheets. It is then slightly toasted to get a crunchy paper or sheet with ocean flavor.
- Nori is consumed beyond sushi and in a variety of ways in Japan. It is a popular snack with soya sauce and is also consumed with rice for breakfast. It is also used to wrap balls of rice and sushi rolls. It has become popular as a snack in the USA and is also available as chips with seasoning.
- The Nori sheets are pre-toasted and sold, which improves the flavor, and used in many dishes like salads, soba, or udon are low in iodine content.
Wakame was mainly grown in East Asia, are brown algae and a species of sea vegetable. It is widely used in Japan, where frozen wakame is also available.
- It is satiny and silky in texture and is widely used in miso soups, salads, sesame seeds, and more. This is also dried and stored in Europe, again soaked in warm water before cooking.
- Wakame is also popular as ‘sea mustard’ and is mild in flavor and widely used in Asian and Japanese cuisines. Dried wakame is the most common, and the salted variety available in the market needs refrigeration.
- It is cultivated in Korea and Japan, while wild harvesting is done in Australian waters.
Kombu is a brown alga high in iodine and cultivated in cold, clear water areas. This is chewy and hard when dry so cut in thin stripes and store.
- This is the basic ingredient of dashi soup and is also used in different snack recipes in Japan. Wild kombu grown on islands are dried and stored.
- This type of algae is used as a spice when powdered and soaked for use in different recipes. Tea is also made with kombu. Water soluble dietary fiber is obtained from Kombu when boiled. These are alginic acid and fucoidan.
- The other beneficial minerals are calcium and potassium. Consumption of Kombu helps manage cholesterol, sugars, and fats. This also helps boost immunity and regulates body function along with building body tissue.
- It is rich in glutamic acid, which adds a unique umami flavor and taste to cooking.
1. Supports thyroid
Seaweed contains iodine which supports thyroids for hormones. Apart from thyroid issues, the absence of iodine in diet or deficiency can lead to fatigue, neck swelling, and body weight irregularity. Iodine deficiency causes hypothyroidism, which is an underactive thyroid causing fatigue, sore muscles, joints, etc. It also causes goiter, a major disease causing the thyroid gland to enlarge. The presence of amino acids called tyrosine also helps properly function the thyroid gland.
2. Source of vitamins and minerals
There are multiple vitamins and minerals like Omega-3 and vitamin B12, iron, iodine, calcium, and magnesium. Some amount of protein, fat, and fiber content is also present in nori. It also contains antioxidants that prevent cell damage.
3. Heart health
The fiber content helps reduce cholesterol levels. Some seaweeds are also good in antioxidants which are beneficial for heart health. The carbohydrate called fucans in seaweeds prevents blood clotting, which prevents heart attack. The essential nutrients like soluble fiber and omega-3 fatty acids in seaweeds also help maintain a healthy heart and prevent diseases. As per studies, a certain level of seaweed consumption also helps reduce blood pressure levels among individuals.
4. Protective Antioxidants
The antioxidants present in seaweed protect from free radical damage by boasting beneficial plant compounds like carotenoids and flavonoids. Wakame contains a carotenoid called fucoxanthin which has 13.5 times the antioxidant capacity and is also found to protect cell membranes than vitamin A. Seaweeds help reduce risks of breast cancer in women for the presence of estrogen. As per the study, wakame and kombu help control the spreading of cancerous cells in the body. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties also protect against rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.
5. Better digestion and weight loss
Seaweed is nil in calories but high in fiber content which delays hunger pangs for a longer time. Fucoxanthin in seaweed has anti-obesity effects that support weight loss and drop blood sugar levels. Weight regulating hormone called Leptin in the human body is affected by seaweed which helps manage weight as per researchers. It is a healthy snack with high fiber and low calories for people dealing with weight management or obesity issues.
6. Beneficial for skin
Seaweed is high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties that benefit the skin. Many cosmetics and skin care products are available in the market. Studies and reviews have shown that skincare products with seaweed extracts help improve skin, reduce acne, and have anti-aging effects.
- The high amount of iodine content in most seaweeds can result in health issues when consumed regularly or in high amounts. Hyperthyroidism is the most common condition caused due to iodine consumed in high amounts, which causes swelling around the neck and affects body weight.
- Seaweeds also contain nutrients, minerals, and some metals that can be toxic to the human body. Metals like lead, aluminium, and cadmium are hazardous after a certain level of consumption. Edible seaweeds are low in heavy or toxic metals, but it is advised to consume in moderate quantities and avoid build-up in the body. It is also advised to ensure the source of seaweed and try to consume high-quality organic seaweeds.
Adding seaweed to your diet is beneficial in many ways for its nutritional values and health benefits. It also adds unique flavor and taste to your recipes effortlessly. Whether you want to add flavor to your soup with kombu or toast wakame and use it as a topping, it always makes your recipe better. Nori with rice, spinach, egg, or fish makes delicious rolls packed with vitamins and can be enjoyed anytime.
Dried or roasted nori is available in supermarkets along with kombu and wakame, which can be easily stored or refrigerated. These frozen seaweeds can be easily used and added to various recipes as and when required. While seaweeds are harvested all year round, it is good to gather from clean water, low population, and low industry areas for the best quality and less contamination.