Seaweed, lots of iron, calcium and other health benefits

Compared to dairy products, seaweed provides up to 10% more iron and calcium. In Eastern civilizations, the importance of algae as a food to strengthen the blood, heart and circulatory system has traditionally been recognized.

But not only is its nutritional value known and recognized, it has also been proven that algae have antibacterial effects, Antivirals and anti-cancer. Likewise, it has been discovered that several types of algae reduce blood cholesterol levels, preventing hypertension and arteriosclerosis, and improving fat metabolism. Additionally, various varieties of algae contain blood anticoagulants, similar to heparin, the natural blood anticoagulant.

Seaweed is also famous for achieving quick beauty results. An application of seaweed can reduce an abdomen by 3 cm and another type of seaweed can erase wrinkles for 14 hours in less than 2o minutes

Algae and Food

The use of seaweed in human nutrition is widespread. This has generated the development of several cultivation techniques and the creation of a complex marketing network.

If we refer to the traditional recipe books of coastal communities, we find antecedents of the use of seaweed in food mainly in Japan, Korea and China, but also in Europe, Canada and South America.

Currently, along with the rampant use of additives and artificial products - including various industrial derivatives of algae - some natural products are being revalued. This is the case of those that come from the diets of the people of the East, such as algae.

The convenience of using these natural products from a dietary point of view is the subject of study by the corresponding professionals. But there is no doubt that some species are particularly pleasant for their flavor and texture, so it would be possible to easily introduce their use in the national and South American markets.

In general, the algae that are going to be used in food are subjected to conservation processes by drying or in airtight containers (canned goods). Only on the Pacific islands does the custom of consuming some species fresh continue due to the easy access that coastal human communities have to them.

The traditional “hoshi-nori” flakes consumed in Japan are practically all prepared from cultivated Porphyra and by mechanized methods. The product obtained is marketed after careful classification. This seaweed is known in Chile under the name “luche”, and it is consumed practically without any other processing than drying or roasting.

The most common and abundant species of Porphyra in Patagonia is Porphyra columbina, whose thallus is relatively thick. After drying it, lightly toasting it and grinding it, it acquires a pleasant flavor that makes it suitable as a condiment for rice, fish and sauces. It combines very well with soy sauce to season all types of hot dishes and also with chicken, fish and vegetables in fillings for pies, fritters and empanadas. Its bright, dark color and its marked flavor allow it to be used to sprinkle canapes and give variety to sandwich fillings, mayonnaise for cold cuts and both standard and dietary -low cholesterol- foods.

An alternative is the production of “laver-bread”, similar to that produced in Swansea –Wales-, based on several species of Porphyra.

Another algae that could be commercialized - especially in the southern part of the country where the Chilean community uses it - is Durvillaea antarctica. However, the collection areas of this species would be limited to very specific and difficult to access points in Tierra del Fuego. It is sold dry in bundles and is cooked mainly in stews, replacing meat due to its texture. The flavor - although it is particular - is not unpleasant and accepts the traditional type of seasoning in our country very well.

The Patagonian provinces are evaluating the possibility of developing their aquaculture as an economic alternative. The pollution-free waters of our coasts allow the cultivation of Undaria, an exotic algae that serves as the basis for the production of “wakame”. This seaweed has an interesting value in the international market since its consumption has grown in the East approximately five times in the last 50 years. A kilogram of fresh Undaria has an estimated price of 0.8 US dollars. It would be interesting to develop its use as a way to control its excessive proliferation.

The green algae of the Ulvales and related groups, especially Ulva and Enteromorpha, have been used commercially in the production of flour for bird feed, due to their carotene content.

The use of Ulvales in human nutrition is not very high. However, in places where the use of seaweed is not traditional, they are easily accepted - such as in Uruguay, where Ulva is consumed in some coastal towns.

In Comodoro Rivadavia -Chubut, Argentina- pilot tests were carried out on the acceptance of hot and cold foods based on Enteromorpha and Ulva with encouraging results.

A mixture of Monostroma, Enteromorpha and Ulva is marketed as “aonori”, which is used to season “sashimi” – raw fish – dishes. The only species of Monostroma observed so far on the Patagonian coast is Monostroma undulatum. This species has a very pleasant flavor and aroma while fresh and is somewhat difficult to dry.

They are marine plants, which, like terrestrial plants, need light, have chlorophyll, roots, stems...; although its structure is much less complex. Many are used in food, cosmetics or for medical purposes.

There are algae so simple that they are composed of a single cell and others so large that they form natural walls on the seabed. Many people whose diet is not strictly vegetarian eat seaweed almost every day, perhaps without knowing it. Although they cannot be seen with the naked eye, among many other uses is to curdle desserts made with milk, ice cream, fruit juices... Algae contribute to giving these food products a more pleasant texture and appearance. In other countries (Japan, Chile, Iceland, Central Europe, South Wales...), seaweed is an integral part of the daily diet.

Acquiring algae is not a big problem, at least the product in a dry state, since they are currently sold in most health food stores and herbal stores.