The world of sea vegetables or sea greens is not limited to the seaweed in your miso soup or the wrapping around you sushi.
Green sea vegetables, such as sea lettuce, red sea vegetables, such as nori and dulse, and brown sea vegetables, such as arame, hijiki, kombu and wakame have become all the rage.
Food processors, caterers, restaurants and specialty and health food retailers have showed a greater interest in sea vegetables as consumers have become aware of their health and nutritional benefits. It’s no surprise that The Independent listed seaweed as its number one food trend for 2021.
According to the most recent figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization (2020), worldwide aquaculture production, including sea vegetables, recently reached an all-time high of 114.5 million metric tons in “live weight,” representing a market value of almost $264 billion.
Gingered miso shiro soup made with sea vegetables including wakame, with daikon, carrots, Chinese … [+]
Here are five reasons why sea vegetables could soon be the future of produce.
They are better for the environment
As the soil faces more intense pressure from factory farming practices, farmers will seek to put less pressure on the land. Sea vegetables can play an important role in reducing the carbon emissions associated with food by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.
Sea vegetables can grow in tanks or in the ocean and have a much smaller carbon footprint than land vegetables. They are also low waste, with the edible portion for sea purslane ranging from 55 per cent, 72 per cent for the sea asparagus and 75 per cent for saltwort.
Recent studies have also shown that adding red seaweed to cow feed could cut bovine flatulence and cut cows’ methane production by up to 98 per cent.
Nori and wakame seaweed
They are more nutritious than land vegetables
Sea vegetables are packed with protein, iodine, fiber and vitamins A, B, C and E in amounts that are 10 to 20 times higher than land vegetables.
Trace minerals that we need for our bodies to function make up about 7 to 38 percent of the dry weight of sea vegetables, with the most significant of these being iodine, calcium, phosphorous, iron and sodium. As soils continue to decline in micro-nutrients due to factory farming practices, the nutrition gap between sea vegetables and land vegetables is likely to increase.
Sea vegetables are rich in antioxidants that support cardiovascular health, stabilize blood-sugar levels and provide anti-inflammatory benefits.
They are trendy
Marine macroalgae or seaweed aquaculture is the fastest-growing segment of global food production, with the world production of seaweed, having tripled, up from 10.6 million tonnes in 2000 to 32.4 million tonnes in 2018. (FAO)
And this trend has become evident on our plates. Food producers like Blue Evolution are selling products such as kelp popcorn and seaweed pasta, and at Michelin star, Loam restaurant in the United Kingdom, chef founder Enda McEvoy enjoys experimenting with sea vegetables on her menu, while in Spain, Ángel León creates unique dishes with foraged sea vegetables at his Michelin starred restaurant, Aponiente.
They are delicious
Sea vegetables provide novel taste and texture opportunities for a virgin palate. They can be eaten raw in salads, sautéed, cooked or added to smoothies in much the same way as land vegetables. While they exhibit an array of subtle flavor differences, sea vegetables typically taste like cooked greens but are more savory in flavor; sea asparagus for example has been described as a saltier version of land based asparagus. Because they contain dimethyl sulfide, sea vegetables often carry the aroma of coastal air.
They are easy to grow
With the supply chain disruptions of COVID-19, there has been a renewed interest in sea vegetables. Controlled conditions or aquaculture result in a much more simplified process than farming land based vegetables.
Sea vegetables don’t require fresh water and they grow rapidly, requiring only sunlight, salt water and mineral input.
A team of researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute managed to grow more than 100 pounds of sea asparagus, sea purslane and saltwort in 10-weeks, with just salt water and fish waste as fertilizer. The sea vegetables also exhibited remarkable survival.
With so much land being over-farmed, sea vegetables are a delicious and nutritious option for plant-based vitamins and minerals.
I’m an environmental writer with a focus on food and agriculture, and commute between the Southern Caribbean (Barbados) and the Northern Caribbean (Cayman Islands). I