If you have ever had long hair, and you are not afraid or unable to go swimming
or take a bath
, you know of the misty waving mermaid clouds, the way hair introduced to water takes up a gentle kind of modern dance. You know how it curls around and strokes your face and kicks out behind you and makes you feel like Ariel in that damn Disney movie
. Heck, even if you've seen a few shampoo commercials you know about this. Why both of those images include irrationally half-starved women floating around underwater, I don't know. What, it would kill you to let them eat some damn mussels or something?
Well, if they were in the right waters, they could eat some arame. In fact, someday I predict that we will do away entirely with doughnut-waisted underwater girls and just show fabulous shots of fandangoing arame. Better still, we will do away with shampoo commercials and promotional videos for anorexia and just lie around eating seaweed all day long.
Oh! The Crunchy Nutritiveness Of it All!
Ahhh, arame, you queen of all vegetables.
The many different seaweeds out there are often (and more respectfully) called "sea vegetables." Like our humbler dirt vegetables, the hue and intensity of their color reveals the kind and quality of nutrients within.
Fruits and vegetables with more intense or darker hues tend to have more vitamins and minerals, although all of them have tasty vitamins and minerals of some kind. Mmm! Love that funky cellulose!
The passionate people at loveseaweed.com tell us that
"Sea vegetables contain 10 to 20 times the minerals and vitamins of land vegetables. Gram for gram, they are higher in vitamins and minerals than any other class of food. The minerals are available in chelated, colloidal forms that make them especially available to the bodies of humans and animals, a concept known as 'bioavailability.' All sea vegetables contain significant amounts of protein, sometimes as much as 48%. Sea plants are also a rich sources of both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber."
Arame, specifically -- in just 100 g
or 3.5 oz
servings -- will fill your tummy and fire up your bloodstream with:
- 12 mg of iron (for your healthy blood!)
- 3760 mg of potassium (to keep your heart and muscles working)
- 830 mg of calcium (for your heart, teeth, bones, nerves, and many other fabulous parts)
- 7 grams of fiber ("bye, bye poop! thanks for going in the toilet!")
- 2900 mg of salt (which in fact does not raise your cholesterol or blood pressure unless you have a specific sensitivity to salt; and complex salts from seaweed apparently help us not to crave the simple salts of junk food)
- 50 iu of vitamin A (for your beautiful eyes)
- 12 grams of protein (with the amino acids we need for life!)
- As a brown seaweed, it also contains fantastical alginic acid, which binds up nasty toxic heavy metals and eliminates them from our bodies.
It's like those commercials for breakfast cereal
, except without the burden of eating seven healthy things to provide the nutrients your New! Lo-Carb Sugary Wheat Crunch actually fails to give -- or to replace the "added" zinc and iron that your body can't actually process!
O Arame, Where Art Thou?
The color of a given kind of sea vegetable also indicates where it grows, with greener kinds growing near the shore, browns like our friend arame in the mid-intertidal or subtidal zones, and reds growing way down in the lower intertidal zone and the deep deep ocean depths.
Sea vegetables are actually large algae, and each one has watery counterparts to our literally garden-variety friends. They have a "holdfast" instead of a "root," a "stipe" instead of a "stem," "blades" instead of "leaves." In this, they resemble the grassy fields of the ocean.
Not for nothing do people here mumble fondly about "dried-hair seaweed." Arame is a dark, curly tangle of seaweed, fluid like hair when it's at home and stiffly formal out of the water. To cook it, most recipes demand soaking in cold water for ten minutes, dissolving its formality. It thinks it's been invited to a deep watery party, and then we eat it. So sad.
Unlike the olive and salt and sweet flavors of thick kombu, or the potato-chip fun of toasted seasoned laver, arame has a subtle, almost roasted taste to it. It is exceptionally hard and brittle when dry, warning even me off as far as snack foods go (and I go running to my kombu, ripping off chunks to gnaw); when moistened, the deeper flavors come out, but it maintains a certain businesslike demeanor.
You can of course make mock risotto with miso, arame and scallions or a dozen other dishes with this twirly foodstuff, but here's how I've used it.
Arame with Smoked Tofu Croutons and Sweet Corn
This salad combines the sweet bitter crunch of onion, the bright yellow sweetness of corn kernels, the savoriness of tofu, and the wiggly goodness of arame for a very healthy and interesting meal.
Two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
One pack smoked tofu, diced
One cup of dry arame
One red and one yellow onion, roughly chopped
One-half cup of water
One-half cup of organic corn kernels
A goodly splashing of soy sauce to taste
About a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar
Fry the tofu cubes in the olive oil until golden. Mmm... it smells good already. Take them out of the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel, while using that oil to sauté the onions for about ten minutes over a medium flame, or until they start getting soft and translucent.
While those sizzle, cover the arame with cold water and let that soak for ten minutes. Once the onions are getting soft, add the corn kernels and half-cup of water to the onion pan, drain your arame, and add it too. Simmer all of that for about fifteen minutes, then add the tofu and some apple juice vinegar and soy sauce to taste. Simmer till any liquid evaporates, and serve. Tastes good cold, too!
As another health benefit of arame pops up: it is important to know that the phytic acid in tofu sucks minerals out of our bodies. In many cultures, tofu is most often eaten with sea vegetables and other mineral-rich foods. In America, it is often treated as a magic protein pill to be taken alone and in large doses. Recipes like this one remarry the two. Tell me of the nature of love....
This will keep in the refrigerator for about a week before the natural thickening agents in the arame carry out their plot to make it grossly gelatinous and the onions fade from grace and it all just looks unappetizing even though it's still kind of tasty. Plus, at least if you're in the United States, most people will be so weirded out by the combination of corn, onions, and seaweed that they will leave it all for you.
The Lifestyle Of Sweet Arame
At first glance, sea vegetables in general are the darlings of the vegetable world, left to float freely underwater and live their tiny seaweed lives until they die of old age and are washed ashore for our snacking fun. If only People for Ethical Treatment of Vegetables would investigate their concerns! Because in truth, as the demand for arame and its frondy family members grows, more and more of them are grown in artificial conditions, never to see the sea -- never to see a tiny golden angelfish swim by, or have an amusing Nemo-like chat with a starfish! -- or find their idyllic ocean lives cut short as they are RIPPED brutally from the soft soft sandy ocean bed!
*pant* *pant* *wheeze* *pant*
To quote seaweed purveyor Larch Hanson:
"I work within a four mile radius of home, and in practical terms this means that I range over thirty miles of shoreline on Gouldsboro Bay, Dyer Bay and the Sally Islands which stretch across the mouths of these bays. Within this territory, I harvest every seaweed bed that SHOULD be harvested for human food and medicine, believing that... these plants belong to humanity, and I am a steward...."
Larch alone harvests 18,000 wet pounds (6,000 dried) of various seaweeds every year. Tender, graceful arame is saved from this carnage, but at what cost? Even the good people of larger New England, with their Field Guide to Economically Important Seaweeds of These Here Parts, remark upon this problem:
"As the market for seaweed grows, many people have become concerned about the effects of overharvesting. Removing large quantities of seaweed from a rocky shore can upset the balance of plant and animal communities living there. It can also cause more rapid erosion of the shore."
Larch claims to harvest only three-year-old kelp on the surface at low tide, when it is at the very end of its life cycle and liable to be destroyed by storms. But he is an independent producer, gathering seaweed as only part of his income while the rest comes from such wholesome activities as massage and furniture making. He harvests seaweeds in a way that lets their beds regenerate and preserves the ecosystem. How many others strafe the ocean floor with harsh murderous harvesting techniques? Are we to crumble our shoreline and tumble into the sea to join angry arame on its own turf? Noble sea vegetables! Unite and rise up like a tidal wave to crush your human oppressors!
Here's where you can buy arame and learn more!
Larch Hanson explains how he harvests his many seaweeds of doom: http://www.alcasoft.com/seaweed/pages/oct2000newsyes.html (and he sells them for mega-cheap, US$1.25 or less per ounce -- but no arame!)
A field guide to economically important seaweeds of northern New England: http://www.noamkelp.com/technical/handbook.html
LoveSeaweed.com's guide to the health benefits of various sea vegetables: http://loveseaweed.com/health.html (ah - tasty arame for sale as well!)
Many nifty recipes for you and your arame friends: http://www.clearspring.co.uk/ifood/issue4/3.htm