Seaweed is the generic name for a class of marine plants, which are botanically known as algae. The variety of seaweeds, comprising red, green and brown algae, is vast and they are beneficial to human beings in a number of ways. Some varieties are used in the preparation of food and medicines, while others are used as fertilizers and as industrial raw materials. Seaweed dishes mostly belong to different East Asian cuisines. Nori, kombu, wakame, kondu wracks, kelps and Irish moss are some of the popular edible seaweeds.
History of Seaweed Dishes
Seaweed has been in existence for the last three and a half billion years and its culinary usage can be traced back to three thousand years ago, when the primitive Hawaiians cultivated kelps and used 50 -70 different varieties of seaweed for dietary and therapeutic purposes. Limu Moui is a popular seaweed product, which the Tongans used to keep themselves energized. Captain Cook was offered Limu Moui when he visited the Togans in the year 1777 for rejuvenation.
The Chinese seemed to use algae in their cooking since 2700 BC. According to Sze Teu, algae preparations were a favorite of the Chinese royals and guests of honor in 600 BC. Chi Han had authored a book on seaweed in 300 BC. Kelps were used in the Chinese cuisine in the 5th century. Laminara Japonica, a Japanese edible alga, was imported by China from that country in the same century.
Japanese had used the algae to supplement their diet. As long back as 800 AD, seaweed usage was prevalent in the Japanese cuisine which had already started using about six different varieties of it. The history of Nori is very old, as its preparation dates back to 794 AD.
In Europe, certain varieties of Mediterranean seaweeds were used as fodder and for therapeutic purposes since 100 BC. The Irish, who started collecting algae since 1200 AD, were one of the first Europeans to use them for human consumption, as they have been doing so for hundreds of years now.
Seaweed has significant nutritional and therapeutic properties. Its high iodine content makes it an apt food for the thyroid gland. Some varieties of edible seaweed are found to be better sources of proteins and calcium than meat and milk, respectively. Some Japanese studies seem to claim that some algae have anti-carcinogenic properties and seaweeds are being considered as a remedy for alleviating the occurrence of malignant tumors. Apart from containing high amounts of manganese and magnesium, some edible algae are also known to contain high amounts of anti-stress B vitamins and Vitamin K. When it comes to therapeutic usage, apart from being administered orally, seaweed products are used on the skin directly to treat certain medical conditions.
Popular Seaweed Recipes
Seaweed dishes are consumed as a delicacy in East Asian countries. Owing to their appealing tastes and their nutritive worth they are a favorite in many other cuisines as well. Some of the popular preparations of edible algae are discussed further:
- Laverbread – this is made of oats and laver, a preparation of Porphyra algae.
- Dulce- this is a popular milk-based Belizian beverage made using red algae. It is flavored with nutmeg and cinnamon, and lastly vanilla.
- Seaweed noodles- These were invented in the Tiwi cuisine of the Philippines where their noodles, colloquially known as the pancit or pansit, were enriched with nutritionally beneficial algae and were used in the preparation of dishes such as the Pancit canton or pancit luglug. Certain spaghetti and carbonara also included seaweed because of its health-wise beneficial properties.
- Nori – this is a very popular sheet-like Japanese seaweed that is commonly used as a onigiri and sushsi wrap. Actually derived from the red algae Poryphyra, which is also known as laver occasionally, this seafood ingredient is prepared in a number of ways for consumption; by the Japanese, Koreans and Chinese. Nori is eaten in the toasted form in both Japan and Korea. The Japanese flavor the toasted Nori with spices, soy sauce and sugar. The Koreans like to flavor their toasted Nori with salt and sesame oil. Noritsukundani is a Nori paste flavored with soy sauce. The Nori is also used for decorating foods. It has a good percentage of proteins , dietary fiber, B-vitamins, Vitamins A and C1,and calcium, iodine and iron, and therefore nutrionally very beneficial. Known as zicai in Chinese and as Gim in Korean, the Nori, apart from being used for wrapping sushi, is used as an ingredient in soups.
- Carrageenan moss- also known as Irish moss, this red algae is used as a preservative for meat, fish, dairy products and baked goods. It is an additive of salad dressings and sauces and is included in dietetic foods.
- Agar is a seaweed extract that is used in as an ingredient in poultry and meat dishes, and in confections.
Many plants cannot survive in seawater, as the excess water and the salt in it damage them; but seaweed adapts itself to survival in the highly salted water with its adaptive mechanisms. Unlike most plants, it has a thick rubbery stem that protects the internal parts of the plants from the corrosive action of salt present in sea water. The roots are also designed to absorb optimum quantity of water and not more than it. The leaves are designed for absorbing adequate sunlight, even though the plant grows in water. Some advanced species of seaweed also have bladders which allow them to float on water.