Seaweed is actually a general term used to define what is known as multi-cellular algae that can be found growing in coastlines along the seas, as well as in shallow oceanic areas. Most often, it is used to describe members of the brown, green, and red algae specimens. Later on, as people began to learn and make use of the benefits of seaweed, the term also started to be attached to products that are categorized by usage, such as medicinal, industrial, and food.
At least two critical factors are required by seaweed in order to grow and flourish in an environment. One is that seawater must be present in an area that can also be reached by enough sunlight to induce the chemical reaction known as photosynthesis. Therefore, seaweed is not expected to grow in the deeper regions of the oceans which cannot be reached by sunlight. The other requirement is that seaweed needs to secure itself to a solid foundation or attachment point. For this reason, seaweed is more commonly found along the rocky coastlines rather than along sandy areas.
Contrary to some misconceptions, seaweed is not solely indigenous to Asian waters, but can also thrive in European and American waters as well. East Asian countries such as Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia are known for their consumption of seaweed, but the marine algae is also very popular in countries such as Ireland, France, Scandinavia, and Wales, all the way up to Peru and Chile.
While seaweed in Asian countries are commonly consumed both either fresh or dried, it is more common to see these marine algae being sold Europe in packets, after they have been dried and powdered. However, there are several recipes for seaweed which call for them to be pickled, and some are even made into flour to be baked as seaweed bread.
Seaweed’s popularity not only as food but also as medicine stems from its rich alkali content. Scientists have long discovered the alkalinity of seaweed and the numerous health benefits it can provide, such as improving thyroid function and lowering the acidity levels in the body, thus preventing the development of degenerative illnesses like cancer and heart disease.
Aside from its alkaline content, seaweed is also rich in calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, iodine, and zinc. As a matter of fact, seaweed has been praised by nutritionists as one of the rare plants containing sufficient amounts of all the minerals needed by the human body. It is also a rich source of dietary fiber, although it is wholly different in physical as well as chemical composition from the dietary fiber found in land-based plants.
Various specimens of seaweed have been shown to be effective detoxifying agents. They can bind with toxic metals inside the digestive system and cause them to be eliminated from the body. Other varieties have been found to provide nutrients to the scalp, thus improving the health and growth of thick, lustrous hair. Moreover, recent studies have found seaweed to be effective in reducing cholesterol levels and blood pressure, as well as improving the functions of the digestive system. The dietary fiber found in seaweed have also been shown to have anti-mutagen and antioxidant properties.