Algae, lots of iron, calcium and other health benefits

Compared to dairy products, algae provide up to 10% more iron and calcium. In Eastern civilizations, the importance of algae as a food to strengthen the blood, heart and circulatory systems is traditionally recognized.

But not only is their nutritional aspect known and recognized, it has also been proven that algae have antibacterial, antiviral and anti-cancer effects. Likewise, various types of algae have been found to reduce blood cholesterol levels, prevent high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis, and improve fat metabolism. In addition, various types of algae contain anticoagulants, similar to the natural anticoagulant heparin.

Seaweed is also known to provide quick beauty results. One application of seaweed can reduce the size of the stomach by 3 cm and another type of seaweed can eliminate wrinkles for 14 hours in less than 20 minutes

Algae and food

The use of seaweed in human nutrition is widespread. This has led to the development of various farming techniques and the creation of a complex marketing network.

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

Currently, in addition to the widespread use of additives and artificial products – including various industrial algae derivatives – there is also an upgrading of some natural products. This is the case of those that come from the diet of people in the East, such as algae.

The nutritional usefulness of these natural products is examined by the relevant experts. However, there is no doubt that some species are particularly pleasant due to their taste and texture, so their use could easily be introduced into the national and South American markets.

Generally, the seaweed to be used in food is preserved by drying or in airtight containers (canning). Only in the Pacific Islands does the custom of eating some species fresh persist, due to easy access to them by coastal residents.

The traditional “hoshi nori” flakes consumed in Japan are virtually all made from cultured porphyra and using mechanical processes. The product obtained is marketed after careful classification. This seaweed is known in Chile as “Luche” and is consumed with virtually no further processing other than drying or roasting.

The most common and abundant Porphyra species in Patagonia is Porphyra columbina, whose thallus is relatively thick. After drying, lightly roasting and grinding, it acquires a pleasant flavor that makes it suitable as a seasoning for rice, fish and sauces. It combines very well with soy sauce to flavor all kinds of hot dishes, and also with chicken, fish and vegetables as a filling for cakes, donuts and empanadas. Its light, dark color and distinctive taste allow it to be used for sprinkling canapes and diversifying sandwich fillings, mayonnaise for cold cuts and both standard and low cholesterol diet foods.

An alternative is to produce “laver bread”, similar to that produced in Swansea (Wales), based on several Porphyra species.

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Another algae that could be commercialized – particularly 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 cooked primarily in stews, replacing meat due to its consistency. The taste is special, but not unpleasant and tolerates the traditional way of seasoning in our country very well.

The Patagonian provinces are exploring the possibility of developing their aquaculture as an economic alternative. The pollutant-free waters of our coasts allow the cultivation of undaria, an exotic algae that serves as the basis for the production of “wakame”. This algae has an interesting value on the international market since its consumption in the East has increased about five times over the last 50 years. One kilogram of fresh undaria has an estimated price of $0.8. It would be interesting to further develop its use as a means of controlling its excessive distribution.

The green algae of the Ulvales and related groups, particularly Ulva and Enteromorpha, have been used commercially to produce 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 Uruguay, where ulva is consumed in some coastal towns.

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

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

They are marine plants that, like land plants, require light and have chlorophyll, roots, stems, etc.; although its structure is much less complex. Many are used in food, cosmetics or for medicinal purposes.

There are algae that are so simple that they consist of a single cell and others that are so large that they form natural walls on the seabed. Many people who don’t follow a strict vegetarian diet eat seaweed almost every day, perhaps without knowing it. Although they are not visible to the naked eye, they are used, among other things, to curdle desserts made from milk, ice cream, fruit juices, etc. Seaweed helps give these foods 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.

Purchasing algae is not a big problem, at least when dry, as it is currently available in most health food stores and herb shops.

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