Searching for the next superfood trend? You may want to explore under the sea. Cate Lilja explains why seaweed could be the next big thing!
In many parts of the world, it has long been known that seaweeds are an excellent source of nutrition. However, apart from the odd sushi roll or seaweed rice cracker, most of us do not consume seaweed regularly. Just as we are what we eat, seaweeds absorb nutrients from their aquatic environment. With each tidal ebb and flow, the plants are bathed in a rush of mineral-rich sea water. They are thus an excellent source of minerals and trace elements for us, containing up to 20 times the mineral content of most land vegetables. These minerals include iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, chromium, zinc and iodine – all present in a naturally-occurring, a chelated form that tends to be well absorbed and utilised by the body.
Seaweeds are known to be one of the best sources of iodine – an essential building block of the thyroid hormone thyroxine. Thyroxine is essential for regulation of our basal metabolic rate, and impacts on almost every cell in our body. Iodine levels in Australian soil are very low, which is in turn reflected in our food crops. In fact, FANZ (the government body that regulates our food supply) have legislated for mandatory fortification of breads with iodised salt to reduce the incidence of iodine deficiency.
Seaweeds have high amounts of vitamins A, B6, C, K and folate as well as being a very rare plant source of vitamin B12 – good news for vegans and vegetarians. They are also high in soluble dietary fibres that have been shown to slow the digestion of carbohydrates and fats, thus promoting satiety. These fibres also function as prebiotics in our gut.
A review of the nutritional profiles of a variety of edible seaweeds found relatively high protein levels in all species, ranging from around 20 per cent (equivalent to legumes) to as high as 50 per cent. They also found that most commonly consumed seaweeds contain the full complement of essential amino acids.
Brown seaweeds, such as wakame (Alaria esculenta), are high in a pigment called fucoxanthin which has been shown to stimulate immunity. The pigments found in red seaweeds such as dulse (Palmaria palmata) and nori (Porphyra umbilicalus) are the subject of ongoing research into potential antioxidant and anticarcinogenic activity. Red seaweeds are also high in taurine, an amino acid essential for healthy heart function. Taurine is not commonly found in plant sources – another tick for vegans and vegetarians.
Seaweed’s ability to absorb minerals from its environment means it is important to select seaweed that has grown in pure, clean waters. Power Super Foods certified organic seaweeds are sourced direct from the Canadian Maritimes region, where it is harvested from the icy clear waters by hand, and sun-dried in the traditional manner on specially prepared rock beds.
How to use seaweed?
Dulse has savoury flavour and can be added to virtually anything: salads, soups, casseroles, dressings and sauces. Pan fry the dry leaves as a bacon substitute.
Nori and wakame have a more traditional seaweed flavour and pair nicely in Asian style cooking. Add them to miso or Sriracha mayo, sprinkle over bibimbap bowls or toast and sprinkle over popcorn. They can replace salt in any recipe.