Sargassum Sea Vegetable

by Green Deane

in Antioxidants, Edible Raw, Plants, Seaweed, Vegetable

Sargassum nutans

Sargassum: Not Just for Breakfast Any More

Sargassum — Gulf weed — comprises a huge number of seaweeds in all oceans, both bottom dwelling and free floating.  In fact, two common species found in Florida waters, S. natans and S. fluitans, are free floating all their lives.

Sargassum fluitans

This brown seaweed, which is also a vast floating masses in the Sargasso Sea in the north central Atlantic, is found washed ashore on the beaches often following sustained easterly winds such as during northeasters and hurricanes. It’s not only common in Florida but I also picked it up as a boy along the shores of New England. Although considered a smelly nuisance by beach-goers when it starts to decompose, the floating mats are a source of food or home to a huge variety of sea life. Often some of them will still be living on a clump of beached sargassum.

Species of Sargassum (sah-GAS-um) can be very difficult to identify because there’s a lot variability. But they do have some basic characteristics. Of all the seaweeds, Sargassum is the genus that looks the most like land plants.  It has an axis (stem) with distinct foliar blades (leaves.)  These “leaves” are long, oval-shaped, and may have smooth or toothed edges. In addition, Sargassum has small berry-like air bladders all over it. A member of the brown seaweed clan, its color doesn’t change much either, varying from yellow-brown to deep chocolate color.  Avoid any seaweed. Sargassum or otherwise,  with blue-green algae on it.

As one might expect Sargassum species vary in taste and texture so there is no one way to cook your local species. It takes experimentation.  More so, among seaweeds Sargassum is not a prime edible but a plentiful one. Slightly bitter, one might call it an acquired taste, then again all tastes are acquired except that for sugar. As Asian countries have the most experience with eating seaweed, most of the approaches have an Oriental spin.

Some Sargassums are consumed fresh, others cooked in coconut milk or a little vinegar or lemon juice. It is smoked-dried to preserve it.  Sargassum is also eaten by itself or added to fish and meat dishes. If not strong it can be added to salads after washing, or it can be cooked in water like a vegetable. If the Sargassum is strong flavored it can be boiled in two changes of water. Some recipes then call for it to be mixed with brown sugar and used as a filling in steamed buns but it could be eaten as is.

A second way of cooking Sargassum, such as S. fusiformis, is fry it quickly then simmer it in water with soy sauce and other ingredients for 30 minutes to two hours or more, depending upon the dish. Other areas of the world mix their Sargassum with oil, salt and green onions and using as filling in dumplings. It is also often cooked with tofu. One Fuji dish is to cook it with a fish then let it cool. When it sets it is sliced and eaten as a cold dish.

Indonesians like to drop Sargassum into boiling water and cook it for one minute then eat it with a sauce made with allspice. Or, they eat it with sugar or make it into a relish. Another option is to steam the seaweed. It can also be cooked into a jelly, firmed, and or used as a glue. Larger “leaves” make a chip when deep fried or the entire plant can be coated with a tempura batter, deep fried and served with a dipping sauce

Hawaiians had a variety of Sargassums to cook with. They stuffed fish with the leaves, or ate it raw with raw fish or octopus. The leaves can be added to soups and chowders or deep fried in tempura batter. Sun dried leaves can be eaten like chips, or they can be fried and sprinkled with salt.

Species found in Florida include: S. natans, S. fluitans, S. filipendula and S. pteropleuron. Those eaten elsewhere in the world include: S. aquifolium, S. fusiformis, S. granuliferum, S. mutica, S. polycyctum, and S. siliquosum. It can be cooked in coconut milk, or a little vinegar, or smoke dried.

As for the botanical name, the bladders look like grapes and were named Sargassum from the Portuguese word for grapes. Nutans (NEW-tanz)  means nodding, and fluitans (FLOO-ih-tanz )from the Greek word fluito, floating. I suspect that is where the word “fluid” came from in English.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Locally, S. nutans long narrow leaves and pointed air bladders, S. fluitans broad leaves and air bladders without pointed tips.  In the northeast U.S. any bottom attached Sargassum will be the S. filipendula.

TIME OF YEAR: All year, but is more plentiful in warm weather. In Florida winds and currents typically wash Sargassum to shore beginning in May. On the west coast of the U.S., spring to autumn.

ENVIRONMENT: S. nutans and S. fluitans are free floating. Other Sargassum are found just below the low water mark down to around 100 feet.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Take younger leaves. Fried, boiled, steamed, dried.

 

HERB BLURB

Sargassums contain antibacterial fatty acids, has anti-oxidants and is mildly diuretic. Fresh Sargassum can be made into a poultice for cuts. In Chinese medicine Sargassum is dried, powered, and used to make a tea to control phlegm. Avoid Sargassum if you are iodine sensitive.

If you would like to donate to Eat The Weeds please click here.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Johnbh99 November 3, 2011 at 16:15

Liked you article. I live on the beach at Daytona Beach Shores and a lot of the stuff washes to shore after a storm. I am thinking about trying to eat some of it.

Reply

2 Ian June 30, 2012 at 21:32

Hi all,
great article!
We are on Cayman Brac and have a lot of Sargassum coming ashore following recent storms. I have been using it on some plants in our garden after rinsing it of salt. So far so good – there are a lot of nutrients in seaweed that are perfect for the garden.
We have samphire – sea asparagus – in England and it is delicious!
As for the Sargassum – the next step is the taste test – I will let you know how it goes!

Reply

3 josette len September 11, 2013 at 23:57

wow1! beautiful article
good to know that sargassum is also a medicine.
and now I already know what to put in my plants that will grow beautiful
thanks in such information!

Reply

4 Bup Oyesiku October 14, 2012 at 03:44

Great! I like this article. Sargassum started visiting my country Nigeria once a year since 2008. It is being considered as nuisance to the offshore fishermen. A research team is coming to the limelight to find uses for the sargassum that often returning to the nature without tapping in this part of the world.

Reply

5 Tony Finn January 22, 2013 at 22:35

I wonder how long it would take to over boil the Florida Seaweed to the
point that the Good micro nutrients would be ruined ?
Is boiling over 1 Hour bad for the good nutrients in seaweed ?
What would happen if the seaweed was rinsed 3 times, raw, and soaked in
fresh water over night in the fridge. Then blended raw , with some type of
favorite drink liquid like orange juice or grape juice .
I do this with raw Kale, and it tastes great
Any answers would be appretiated , thanks .

Reply

6 Green Deane January 23, 2013 at 07:15

Seaweed has a texture issue as well as taste… boiling can moderate that a little. It can be eaten raw but it does remind one why cooking was invented.

Reply

7 dawn March 8, 2013 at 21:51

going to florida in april. kinda scared and excited to see and eat? seaweed. I am an aspiring herbalist with way too much curiosity for my own good. are there any bad seaweeds that i should steer away from?

Reply

8 Green Deane March 10, 2013 at 18:41

There are a couple. I have an article on them.

Reply

9 dawn March 8, 2013 at 21:53

and forgot to add the next question. can i dry it for transport home/ oven baking? hang to dry over campfire? wash it first! lay it out and oven on warmish?

Reply

10 Green Deane March 10, 2013 at 18:41

Yes, you can dry seaweed though it tends to continue to smell.

Reply

11 Log from Blammo May 27, 2013 at 21:00

I tried some Sargassum while visiting a Florida panhandle beach. Fresh from the water, it tasted like salty vegetables. There wasn’t much flavor to it, much like the iceberg lettuce of the gulf. I gathered more for later experimentation.

After about 24 hours, mostly under refrigeration, the bright green color had mostly faded to brown. First, I tried steaming it. That stunk up the kitchen and forced the opening of windows. I ate some as a salad with olive oil and vinegar. It was very filling, but again not very flavorful. The stems were a bit woody.

Because of that, I boiled the rest, hoping to soften it up. It didn’t work very well, but the liquid turned a rich brown and might make a decent herbal tea with the right complementary flavors.

The best parts seem to be the float bladders and leaflike structures, so stripping those off like you would with rosemary would be a good option. Otherwise, chopping the stems into segments about 1 cm long would be advisable. If you cook it, do it outside or under an exhaust fan.

I think it would probably make a good filler seaweed in a wakame salad.

Reply

12 eddie November 16, 2013 at 21:44

how can i make a glue out of the sargassum??

Reply

13 Cindy December 1, 2013 at 01:32

Hello guys,

I am from Indonesia. We have a very large quantity of Sargassum with variety of shape. We are a maritime country. If you interest to buy in a big quantity, please feel free to contact me at:
http://itrade.adventourland.com
sandilla@adventourland.com
or direct phone/ whatsapp: +6281286128677
Skype: Sandilla.Tristiany

Reply

14 Green Deane December 1, 2013 at 17:04

Your link did not work as submitted so I abbreviated it.

Reply

15 Alex Shaw June 2, 2014 at 22:53

Green Deane – love your site and your youtube videos. Hoping to make one of your walks in the next month or so. Here outside of Jax FL we’ve had tons of sargassum wash up this past week, so tonight I stuffed a little in my kayak and brought it back home. Tried a bite raw – actually enjoyed the taste and texture. Pan fried a little bit – not good. Boiled the rest with a little soy sauce and I could see eating this on a regular basis (if I can find a way to manage the odor from cooking). The leftover broth was also quite flavorful – different but similar to the coquina soup I tried a few days ago (thank you for that one too). I did have a question for you though – you refer to eating the ‘leaves’. In researching prior to eating, I saw one but only person specifically refer to not eating the air sacs. I only tried a few bites tonight as it was the first time, but I did sample a few of the air sacs and found those to be the tastiest part. So far I’m fine :) and my guess is this one person is mistaken but I was hoping you could elaborate on what you refer to as the ‘leaves’. Thank you – hope to meet you in person soon.

Reply

16 Green Deane June 3, 2014 at 11:13

It’s all edible, leaves, air sacks et cetera… I, too, had some dried this week.

Reply

17 Kristen June 18, 2014 at 11:44

Hi, thank you for such great information. I live with my employers on a private beach in south FL, where we have piles of sargassum drying on the shore. We are mostly interested in nutritional benefits, so I was wondering if it makes much difference nutritionally if one gathers it from the ocean, vs. already dried on the beach, which seems more convenient. Thoughts? Thanks again, very helpful.

Reply

18 Green Deane June 18, 2014 at 12:36

Drying is often like cooking, some nutriments are made more available and others removed or destroyed. Drying can also concentrate effects and change flavor.

Reply

19 Robert July 24, 2014 at 21:18

Go to Galveston, Texas. It is several feet deep on the beaches.

Reply

20 P!NK August 11, 2014 at 07:17

Hi. I was wondering do you have research studies which proves that sargassum siliquosum is safe for human consumption and have no harmful chemicals or enzymes toward the body?
i am making a research on food fortification using dried sargassum :)

Reply

21 Green Deane August 11, 2014 at 07:46

No, and I didn’t see any of that nature.

Reply

22 Percy September 29, 2014 at 08:14

I presently live in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where massive beach casts of sargassum have been noticed since 2011.

I’ll be glad to start direct communication with anyone in order to share ideas, especially regarding the uses and benefits of S. fluitans and S. natans from first hand experiences.

Email: patshowers@gmail.com
Mobile: 0023288064445
Skype ID: percyats

Reply

23 Lucy December 7, 2014 at 18:22

We had lots of Sargussum (I think that is what it is) on St. John, USVI today and I was wondering if it is edible? Anyone ever tried or knows this species in the Virgin Islands?

http://www.stjohn-guide.com/stjohn-usvi-activities/st-john-sargassum-edible/

Reply

24 Robert December 16, 2014 at 10:41

Can anyone tell me where does it create?
I’ve been watching this drifting to our Island from a child and now i’m wondering where it comes from… thank you…

Reply

25 Green Deane December 16, 2014 at 11:54

In the area called the Sargassum Sea…

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: