The sea asparagus is a crunchy, refreshing wild plant that likes to thrive near the sea. It tastes salty with a slightly peppery aroma – and not least because of this, it is currently conquering gourmet temples around the world. Sea asparagus is also packed with minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium and is an excellent source of essential iodine.
Sea Asparagus – Salt-rich plant from the coastal regions
Samphire or Salicornia, as sea asparagus is also called, loves it moist and salty. Accordingly, it is found near the coast, for example on the North and Baltic Seas and on the Atlantic coast. However, this rather unknown delicacy is native to almost all temperate coastal regions of the northern hemisphere, including Canada, China, and Russia, to name just a few countries.
However, German sea asparagus is rarely available commercially, since its main German distribution area, the Wadden Sea is often a nature reserve. Mostly you get the sea vegetables from France or the Netherlands.
Sea asparagus is one of the few plants that doesn’t mind salt. Twice a day at high tide it is washed over by the salty waves and during this time it absorbs many of the minerals and trace elements contained in the seawater. Samphire also accumulates a lot of sea salt during this time, giving it a salty taste, and making it the perfect and healthy alternative to salt.
Only the fleshy, above-ground part of the plant is used for culinary purposes. Harvest time is from May to August. Samphire is now offered fresh in the harvest season at many fish markets and in numerous fish shops. You can also buy it pickled or dried. Far from the coast, sea asparagus is also available in the market halls of the big cities or in some delicatessens.
Sea asparagus – The nutrients
Like most wild green vegetables, 100 g of sea asparagus contains a lot of water, only a few calories (35 kcal (147 kJ)), and hardly any fat:
100 grams of sea asparagus contain:
- 0.6 grams of fat
- 4.4 grams of carbohydrates
- 6.8 grams of dietary fiber
- 2.6 grams of protein
Sea asparagus – the ingredients
Although sea asparagus has also been used as a food for centuries, little is known about its specific mineral content.
However, since it is rich in various minerals and trace elements, its ashes were also used in glass production in the past to lower the boiling point of the glass. Studies of the ash now show that it consists of 85% valuable minerals and contains a lot of bioavailable iodine.
The following minerals were found in the ash from sea asparagus, with the first-mentioned minerals occurring in the highest concentration and the latter in the lowest.
- Sodium: Sodium is important for cell health. Together with potassium, it regulates the water balance and ensures a healthy heart.
- Potassium: Potassium is important for cell communication, water balance, and heart health.
- Magnesium: The main task of magnesium is to ensure the smooth functioning of our muscles. A deficiency manifests itself in tremors, cramps, and cardiac arrhythmias.
- Iodine: Iodine is primarily required for the formation of thyroid hormones and is one of the essential trace elements. More on the effects of iodine in the next chapter.
- Sulfur: Sulfur has a detoxifying effect, ensures a healthy immune system, is involved in the construction of many proteins and enzymes, has an anti-inflammatory effect, and is required for insulin production.
- Calcium: Calcium ensures healthy bones and teeth. It gives them stability and prevents fractures. It is also required for blood clotting and muscle activity.
- Phosphorus: Phosphorus is essential for cell health and is also required for energy metabolism.
- Iron: As a component of the red blood cells, iron ensures the transport of oxygen into our cells. A deficiency manifests itself in tiredness, exhaustion, hair loss, headaches, and, in the worst case, iron deficiency anemia (anemia).
- Zinc: Zinc ensures strong defenses and a healthy immune system, is a component of many important enzymes, and is essential for our muscle activity as well as healthy skin and mucous membranes.
- Manganese: Manganese is needed to build healthy, strong bones and is a component of many enzymes important for health. A deficiency can lead to impaired wound healing and immune deficiency.
Sea asparagus – The healthy source of iodine
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is at least a slight iodine deficiency in the entire German-speaking area. This is due to the fact that the soils in Central Europe are comparatively poor in iodine and therefore the fruit and vegetables are grown on them also contain little iodine.
However, since the feed is iodized in factory farming and iodized salt is increasingly used in the food industry, the alleged iodine deficiency is usually limited. However, if you don’t live on the coast, don’t eat any animal products, don’t use iodized salt, and don’t like seaweed, you could actually be consuming too little iodine.
Iodine is needed primarily for the production of thyroid hormones, so a persistent iodine deficiency could manifest itself in hypothyroidism. Since iodine is also involved in brain development in the unborn child, an iodine deficiency during pregnancy can lead to reduced intelligence development in the child.
Sea asparagus can now be another source of iodine here. However, since the exact content is not known, excessive amounts of samphire should not be consumed, because an iodine overdose is also not recommended.
Sea asparagus as a medicinal plant
Unfortunately, there are hardly any records of the use of sea asparagus for medicinal purposes in Europe, although sea asparagus has also been used as the food here for centuries.
Only in Asia are there any writings about its use as a medicinal plant. Here, sea asparagus is recommended primarily for blood purification, as a tonic for the liver and kidneys, and for drainage. However, recent research shows that sea asparagus can do much more!
Sea asparagus for high blood pressure
Since sea asparagus is high in sodium, you would expect it—like salt—to raise blood pressure in some salt-sensitive people. But quite the opposite: In a study in Korea, where sea asparagus is traditionally consumed both as a medicinal plant and as a vegetable, researchers were able to show in 2016 that sea asparagus could even lower blood pressure.
Therefore, the scientists concluded, “that sea asparagus can be used as an alternative to salt to prevent or improve hypertension.”
Sea asparagus has antioxidant and anti-cancer properties
Various scientific studies have now shown that sea asparagus extracts have an antioxidant effect. So they prevent oxidative damage to our cells and can thus prevent premature aging and diseases that are caused by oxidative stress. B. cancer or cardiovascular problems.
The crunchy sea vegetables also have a direct effect on cancer cells. Various studies have now shown that sea asparagus has an inhibitory effect on different cancer cells and can even trigger cell death in different types of cancer. This has been demonstrated for colon cancer, liver cell cancer, and lung cancer. In another study, sea asparagus prevented the metastasis of fibrosarcoma cells (fibrosarcoma = cancer of the connective tissue).
Sea Asparagus – A native superfood
In addition to the health benefits already mentioned, the native green superfood has the following scientifically proven health benefits. The sea asparagus…
- lowers blood lipid levels
- has an antibacterial and antiseptic effect
- lowers blood sugar
- protects the liver and lowers elevated liver values
- regulates the immune system and can thus counteract an immune deficiency
- or an overactive immune system (e.g. allergies).
- protects the bones and counteracts osteoporosis
Who Shouldn’t Eat Sea Asparagus?
Because of its high iodine content, people who suffer from an overactive thyroid or are hypersensitive to iodine should avoid consuming sea asparagus.
Even if you suffer from renal insufficiency and the kidneys are not working properly, you should be careful when eating sea asparagus, as wild vegetables can stimulate kidney activity.
Use in the kitchen – sea asparagus instead of salt
Especially the upscale gourmet kitchen has recently discovered the sea asparagus for itself and so the samphire is enjoying ever greater culinary popularity! Don’t worry: you don’t have to make a pilgrimage to the nearest award-winning restaurant to enjoy the tasty, salty, and slightly peppery vegetables. Sea asparagus can be prepared very simply and easily at home.
You can fry the samphire or lightly steam it (not too much as it will lose its crispness and may become mushy).
However, it is usually enjoyed raw as a crunchy addition to salads and we would recommend it in exactly this form. In this way you save on salt, so you can salt your salad in a completely natural way.
Simply take a handful of fresh sea asparagus (50g is enough for two to three people) and cut it into small pieces. Now it is mixed into a salad of leaf lettuce, avocado, carrots, etc. Finally add oil, vinegar, or fresh lemon juice
Below we present you two sophisticated but easy-to-prepare recipes for tasty dishes with sea asparagus. The first is a sea asparagus salad, which exceptionally contains quite a lot of sea asparagus. It is best to try the swelled glass out of hand first. You’ll quickly find out whether you want to eat a complete salad from it or whether you’d rather just use it as a salty condiment.
Mediterranean Sea Asparagus Salad
Ingredients for 2 servings:
- 150 g fresh sea asparagus
- 1-2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes
- ½ cucumber
- 1 handful of olives
- 1 onion
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1-2 tbsp lemon juice (to taste)
- 1 clove of garlic
Peel onion and chop it finely. Quarter and slice the cucumber. Halve tomatoes and olives.
Mix a dressing from the pressed garlic clove, olive oil, lemon juice, and pepper. Mix all the ingredients with the dressing and let it soak briefly.
Tip: If the sea asparagus is too salty, you can soak it in cold water for 1-2 hours before eating. This will flush out some of the salt.
Lemon spaghetti with sea asparagus
Ingredients for 2 people:
- 200g wholemeal spaghetti
- 120 g sea asparagus
- 1 lemon – juice from it and some grated zest
- 2 tbsp almond butter
- 4 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 handful of pine nuts
- Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions until al dente. Don’t add salt to the cooking water because the sea asparagus is salty enough.
- Shortly before the end of the cooking time, add the sea asparagus and cook briefly until al dente. Now drain the spaghetti and samphire.
- Mix the almond butter, lemon juice, and water to form a creamy cream and set aside for a moment. Heat the olive oil in a pan, press the garlic clove and fry briefly in the olive oil with the pine nuts. Add spaghetti and sea asparagus and roast briefly.
- Remove the pan from the heat, and fold in the almond butter mixture and some grated lemon zest. If the sauce is still too thick, you can add a little more water. Pepper to taste and serve.