Seaweed and Wakame(Sea Vegetables)

History

Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) is one of the most popular varieties of seafoods which have been eaten in Japan and Korea for centuries. It is estimated that the first type of seaweed originated one billion years ago. Five hundred million years later, shellfish appeared, and one hundred million years after that, fish. Seaweed, therefore, is one of the oldest forms of life on earth.
Sea vegetables have played an important role in the eating habits of the Japanese people, and excavations have shown these plants to have been consumed as much as ten thousand years ago in Japan. Sea vegetables may even have a longer history as a food than grains such as rice, etc.
The oldest existing anthology of Japanese poetry, the Manyoshu(written in the 8th century), contains references to Wakame as a special dish served in sacred services or used as an offering to nobility.

At that time it was not available for daily consumption, and it was only after the 17th century that ordinary people could obtain and eat Wakame. It was then that Wakame gained popular attention as a food, and cookbooks printed during that period contain information on preparing Wakame dishes.
The same pattern of consumption appears to have developed in Korea.
In the past, only naturally grown Wakame was eaten, but today it is possible to cultivate and harvest Wakame like other plants, and the volume of cultured Wakame is increasing steadily.


Ecology

It is estimated that there are more than 8,000 species of seaweed in the world's oceans. Of these, no more than 10 are eaten. And because they are eaten, these species, including Wakame, are more appropriately referred to as "sea vegetables." Unlike land plants, seaweeds have no leaves, stalks, or roots, so growth is accomplished by absorption of solar energy.

They also respirate through their leaflike blades, and absorb minerals from the sea water.
Besides the blades, seaweeds comprise a stipe, like a stalk, and a holdfast, like a root. Although seaweeds are attached firmly to the seabed by their holdfasts, no nutrition is absorbed through the holdfasts-all nutrition is absorbed directly from the seawater through the blades' surfaces. Thus they not only absorb and accumulate such essential minerals as calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium and iodine, but also many vitamins.


Uses

Sea vegetables and seaweeds are widely utilized as food, feed, and fertilizers. In Europe, they are used as raw materials to produce agar, alginic acid, etc. Where Wakame is concerned, it is consumed mainly as a food in Japan and Korea. In Korea, especially, Wakame is an important ingredient in cooking, where it is an indispensable ingredient in soups consumed by women before and after childbirth, and on special occasions such as birthdays. In Japan, the beneficial effects of Wakame have been understood since antiquity, as noted in folk sayings such as, "Wakame is food and medicine combined in one," and, "Wakame purifies the blood."
Recently, obesity has gained attention as a serious health problem in developed countries, stemming from the excessive intake of animal proteins, fats, and sugar.

This problem has even drawn the attention of the United States Senate, which appointed a special committee on nutritional problems that announced a "Recommended Diet to Prevent Geriatric Disorders" in 1977. In addition, many books and research papers concerning sea vegetables have been published, and general eating habits have improved in accordance with the development of bromatology and dietetics. Therefore, the benefits of Wakame as a natural, healthful food are being recognized, and Wakame will undoubtedly gain considerable attention throughout the world in the near future.


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