Wakame (botanical name Undaria pinnatifida) is a seaweed that grows extremely aggressively having green-brown hued fronds. This seaweed often grows to a length of 3 meters and is usually found growing in sheltered water in places having temperate climatic conditions. In such locations, wakame forms thick forests under the water at depths of about 15 meters and usually displaces the original habitations.
This species is a safe to eat sea vegetable or seaweed, which is used traditionally in Japanese as well as Korean cuisines. Wakame is leafy and its color is deep green. Generally, this seaweed is available in a dried out, desiccated form. However, in some places close to their origin, you may also buy fresh wakame preserved in salt. This seaweed has a gentle flavour, which, to some extent, matches that of spinach. It is frequently used in salads and soups. This variety of seaweed is thought to be a healthy and macrobiotic (vegan) food, as it contains very low fat as well as cholesterol. On the other hand, wakame is loaded with various essential minerals and vitamins.
For several centuries now, growers in Japan and Korea have used aquaculture methods to farm wakame. During the later part of the 20th century, people in France (Brittany) and Tasmania in Australia started cultivating this variety of seaweed. Dried out wakame can be marketed as a whole plant or as flakes. On the other hand, fresh wakame is also marketed as a whole sea vegetable. Before you use wakame for cooking purposes, it is necessary to soak the whole plants in plain water with a view to change their original form (reconstitute) as well as to lessen their saline flavour.
Generally, it is enough to soak the seaweed in water for about 30 minutes. When it is soaked in water, wakame absorbs lots of water and increases significantly in its size. Subsequently, the leaves are separated and sliced into small pieces. As the stem of this sea vegetable is inedible, you may either throw them away or keep them aside to prepare soup stock, something like dashi. If you are purchasing wakame flakes it is not necessary to soak them in water. Instead, they can be sprinkled over several dissimilar foods items to impart a salty taste as well as a crunchy texture.
A number of wakame varieties have a deeper brown hue compared to others. In addition, these wakame varieties also have a propensity to have a potent salty taste and a deeper color too. Nearly all varieties of this seaweed possess a gentle flavour, which is salty as well as sweet, and are generally used in miso soup. Frequently people combine wakame with other different vegetables and also dress it generously using rice wine vinegar to prepare a widely accepted Japanese salad called sunomono. In addition, this seaweed variety may also be included in rice and noodle preparations, stir fries or used individually to prepare a side dish that is dressed with miso, vinegar or soy.
As discussed earlier, wakame is a healthy and wholesome sea vegetable that contains rich amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, in addition to elevated amounts of calcium and iron. Early this century, chemists in Japan found that wakame also enclosed a chemical substance known as fucoxanthin, which when used on rats seemed to encourage weight loss enabling them to burn their fat more rapidly. However, it is still not clear whether the action of fucoxanthin is same on humans. In spite of the fact that consuming seaweeds provides several health benefits, nearly all varieties of seaweeds contain elevated amounts of sodium. Hence, it is advisable that you should consume seaweed in moderation to prevent the risks of developing health conditions like high blood pressure (hypertension), stroke and heart ailments.
This variety of seaweed contains very low amounts of calories and each serving of wakame provides just five calories along with bare minimum amount of fat. While it contains elevated amounts of sodium, it is also an excellent source of several different minerals, such as iodine, iron, calcium and magnesium. In addition, wakame also contains high amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K, in addition to riboflavin and folate. Wakame is also a good resource of lignans, which are believed to have an important function in putting off specific forms of cancer, especially breast cancer. In effect, findings of a study carried in 2005 in the journal 'Cancer Science' show that this seaweed variety is effective in suppressing breast tumour growth in rats.
Some of the health benefits offered by wakame and therapeutic properties possessed by this seaweed are discussed in brief below.
- Fat burning attributes
- Scientists at the Hokkaido University in Japan have discovered that wakame contains a compound called fucoxanthin, which has the potential to lessen fat deposits in the body of rats. In fact, this chemical compound is responsible for the typical brown color of wakame and it also facilitates photosynthesis in the seaweed. It appears that fucoxanthin encourages the liver to produce DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that aids in lowering LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol or 'bad' cholesterol, which is accountable for heart ailments as well as obesity.
- Added weight loss attributes
- In addition to fucoxanthin, which is effective for weight loss, wakame is an excellent food for shedding some extra flab. For instance, it has been found that consumption of only 100 grams of uncooked wakame provides just 45 calories, one gram fat and nine gram cholesterol. However, it is really unfortunate that this seaweed variety does not enclose any dietary fiber. This is something strange for any seaweed, as other seaweeds like agar, bladderwrack and arame enclose anything between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of dietary fiber.
- As a result of continuous depletion of soil, sea vegetables, including seaweeds, have overtaken the vegetables grown on land much ago as far as the plants' iodine content is concerned, which is also true in the case of wakame. Just 100 grams of this seaweed variety encloses roughly 750 micrograms of iodine. This essential trace mineral helps to normalize thyroid and thereby, controls the metabolic process in our body. In addition, findings of a study undertaken in 2003 and published in the journal Breast Cancer Research corroborated the claim that iodine has the aptitude to restrict as well as do away with mammary tumours. This finding may possibly help to elucidate as to why breast cancer is rare in Japanese women as well as men, as they often include this seaweed in their meals.
- Calcium and Magnesium
- These are the two main essential minerals contained by wakame. 100 grams of this seaweed encloses about 15 milligrams of calcium, which is about 15% of our RDI (recommended daily intake), while the same amount of wakame contains about 107 milligrams of magnesium, which is roughly 25% of our RDI. As we all are aware, there is no doubt that calcium helps to make our bones and teeth stronger. On the other hand, magnesium is also useful, as it facilitates the body to assimilate calcium. As wakame contains these two vital minerals, this seaweed is a wonderful food that helps to put off osteoporosis as well as several other diseases related to the bones.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid
- Wakame is one plant that contains the maximum amount of plant-based eicosapentaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, found anywhere across the globe. Consuming only a little wakame, just as little as one or two tablespoons, supplies us with anything between 15 mg and 30 mg of this vital nutrient. Generally, omega-3 fatty acid is present in sufficient amounts in fish. This vital nutrient protects us from several health conditions, including anxiety, depression, memory issues related to aging and also rheumatoid arthritis.
- Iron and protein
- If not the most excellent, nearly all sea vegetables and seaweeds are among the best sources of plant-based iron as well as protein. For instance, consumption of only 100 grams of wakame supplies us with about 3 mg of protein, which is roughly six per cent of our recommended daily intake (RDI). In addition, the same amount of this seaweed variety provides us with 2.2 mg of iron, which is about 12 per cent of our recommended daily intake of this vital mineral.
Habitat and cultivation
Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) is basically greenish-brown seaweed that is generally found growing on mountainous bays and shores in places like Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea having temperate climatic conditions. This variety of seaweed is found growing on reefs and rocks located in sub-littoral (shallow coastal water) zones, to a depth of roughly 7 meters. This seaweed thrives best in temperature ranging between 5°C and 15°C. In fact, the growth of this seaweed stops when the temperature increases beyond 25°C. It is assumed that wakame has spread to different places like Australia, New Zealand and even France by means of ship ballast water.
Chemical analysis of the seaweed wakame has revealed that it encloses many vitamins and other nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K and B vitamins. In addition, it also contains several vital minerals such as sodium, calcium and magnesium. The elevated amounts of minerals and nutrients contained by this seaweed enable wakame to facilitate healthy hair and nail growth.
Side effects and cautions
Although consumption of seaweeds provide numerous health benefits, you ought to remember that eating them in excess, for instance, consuming many plates in a day, may result in a number of adverse side effects. Excessive consumption of wakame may result in hypothyroidism, as it contains high amounts of iodine. However, if you stop eating the seaweed, the hypothyroidism will overturn after about three or four months.
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