With world population figures now passing 6.5 billion, future sources of human nutrition will most likely come from what covers at least 70% of the world’s surface – the sea. Many countries, especially those with large shorelines, have been receiving a good part of their food from the sea for years. The Japanese in particular have eaten aquatic plant life, known otherwise as seaweed, for centuries; and have also used the beneficial qualities of algae and other plants for traditional health remedies and medicine.
Besides being high in fiber content, seaweed also contains many essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, and B12. High amounts of iodine and calcium are also present in many varieties.
Although not all seaweed is edible, there are some types that are used extensively by the Japanese and other sea peoples; and not just for delicacies like Sushi. Some of these types include:
Sargassum – a brownish-green leafy algae, known as haizao to the Japanese and used a lot in oriental medicine.
Porphyra – a purplish-brown algae, known as nori in Japan and is the most commonly used material for wrapping Sushi.
Kelp – a common green seaweed known as kombu in Japan and konbu in China. It is used as food in a number of ways including soups, flavoring, and even picked. Like Nori, it is easily found in oriental food stores or in oriental food sections of most supermarkets.
Laminaria – a green leafy algae called Kunbu in Japan and used in various medicinal remedies including those for the liver, kidneys, lungs, and other organs.
Undaria pinnatifida – a broad leafy form of algae, most popular in soups and salads. Known as Wakame in Japan, it is considered to be a luxury food and is so popular that demand of it far exceeds supply. For this reason, Wakame is often grown extensively in seaweed farms in Japan, Korea, and China.
To give you an idea of the economic importance of seaweed, Japan alone imports around $150 million worth of various seaweed annually from countries like Korea, and exports at least $15 million worth of Nori seaweed wrappings to satisfy the worlds’ growing fondness of Sushi and Nori products. In Japan alone around 21 species of seaweed are eaten as food and the annual per capita consumption of seaweed products is around 4 kilograms. Agar-agar, a gelatin made from Gracilaria and Gelidium types of seaweed, is used both for food and in scientific laboratories as the culture base for growing bacteria specimens. Japan alone exports more than 1,000 tons of Agar annually.
The future of seaweed as a food source will largely depend on the future of the world’s seas and oceans, which are already becoming threatened by widespread pollution. Global warming is also a factor as some seaweed specials are affected by changes in ocean temperatures. In addition, we must also realize that seaweed accounts for more than 20% of our planet’s total oxygen supply, making this perhaps one of the most important attributes for maintaining life on earth.
Source and Picture by Institute for Traditional Medicine