Salicornia or Glasswort: Its Nutrition and Gastronomical Uses
Salicornia, also known as glasswort, marsh samphire and sea bean isn't a type of seaweed, but a perennial plant that grows along the coastlines of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and feeds on salt water. The main difference between salicornia and seaweed is that salicornia grows just below the high tide line and cannot survive for long periods submerged in salt water. Salicornia originates from the coasts and salty marshes of the English channel, as well as Brittany in France, where it grows wild.
In recent years the cultivation of salicoria by environmental researchers and farmers began along the dessert coasts of the Sea of Cortez in the State of Sonora, Mexico. The research was influenced by climate change and the lack of fresh water in many of the world’s driest regions. The successful crops are now being exported, and it is believed they will eventually feed million and also be used to create biofuels.
Salicornia has leafless stems with branches that resembles asparagus, hence the plants other common name sea asparagus. This plant is a member of the Chenopodiaceae botanical family, which is know to tolerate harsh conditions such as desserts and prairie. Other members of the species include sagebrush and pigweed.
Gastronomical Uses and Preparing: Until recently salicornia wasn’t readily available and was only sold to the restaurant industry. That changed in 2010 when the UK supermarket Waitrose began selling salicornia.
Salicornia can be very salty, although it has a nice crunchy texture. It can be eaten raw in salads, toss with vinaigrette, or steamed, sautéed, stir fried or boiled. Wash and remove any tough roots before cooking. Because this plant is salty it pairs well with starchy vegetables such as potatoes, cassava and also rice, pasta, couscous and quinoa. Salicornia can be prepared like green beans. Blanched it in boiling, unsalted water for a few minutes. Too much cooking will change its delicate flavor. Toss with butter. Salicornia is also excellent with seafood, especially shrimp and scallops. When adding salicornia to soups or stews, no extra salt may be necessary.
Nutrition: Edible plants that are found in or near the ocean generally have a better balance of amino acids, compared with land based plants, although they tend to be deficient in sulphuric amino acid. Salicornia is mostly comprised of complex carbohydrates and it is low in fat and calories. This plant is an excellent source of B-complex vitamins, plus vitamin C, and is particularly high in vitamin A. Salicornia is also a good source of the minerals, calcium, iodine and iron. In fact, a salicornia supplement is sold for those who do not eat enough seafood and therefore lack iodine in their diet. One variety of the salocornia plant is also used to make cooking oil which has high levels of linoleic acid, that are equal to that of safflower oil.
The medicinal and therapeutic properties of Salicornia have long been known for centuries and in recent years certain flavonoids which have powerful antioxidant activity have been isolated in salicornia. The bioflavonoids quercetin, isorhamnetin and certain glycosides present in this plant have the potential for use as chemo-preventive agents in the fight against cancer.