Kombu Seaweed: Properties, characteristics , benefits and more…

Kombu Seaweed is recognized worldwide as one of the comestible algae species. It is especially popular in Northwest Asia, where it is used in the main dishes. This alga contains glutamic acid, which gives it  a particular sweet taste, very appreciated by consumers.  It belongs to the order of kelp Seaweed, which are also  known as Laminarials Seaweed,  that make up the family of brown Seaweed.

Main Caharacteristics of Kombu Seaweed 

These Seaweed are recognized by their pigmentation, which is usually yellow even  slightly brown,  so they belong to the family of Brown Seaweed. They also  contain chlorophylls and fucoxanthin , which give them a peculiar brown shade , that make them easy to  recognize among other species.

Kombu is the biggest species of seaweed;  they can measure approximately between two to six meters long, although specimen that reach twenty meters in length have been found. On the other hand,  their  width doesn’t  exceed thirty centimeters.

Kombu Seaweed develop approximately at 12 meters of depth. Specialists  consider that this is one of the reasons  , that make these marine plants  grow faster than other species. Different   studies confirm,  that  when they are under the proper   and necessary conditions;  they  can grow up to 30 cm per day. Then Kombu Seaweed grow in shallow waters of coastal areas.

In terms of its  morphology, this species is characterized by a thallus developed  in a flat form ; giving  as a result,  leaves  in the form  of sheets. Their  thick and fleshy consistency, is another characteristic of this species. They are also recognized , for their  sharp and powerful flavor .

Habitat

Kombu  Seaweed  are mostly located, in shallow and usually cold waters . These are the habitats , according to different studies,  where they grow and develop in a natural way.  Although their cultivation has also been developed , in countries  such as Spain, France, China, Japan, Russia and Korea.

The Kombu tend to develop more easily, in underwater seaweed forests with temperatures below 20 ° C. It should be noted that the water  must be rich in nutrients; so if it presents any kind of contamination,  the kombu  simply won’t develop and will lose their  vitality. Finally we must  say  that they can also be found on rocky coasts.

Brown Seaweed Forest

As  we have already mentioned , the places where Kombu Seaweed live and thrive, are  usually the marine forests of Brown Seaweed.  There are many different organisms that live in these forests, thus they are considered as dynamics  and very productive ecosystems.  These forests have some characteristics, that  favor  the proper growth of the seaweed. They have a substrate that in most cases is rock or sand,  there are a big variety of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, and  they receive the proper amount of sunlight needed.

In these forests the currents  and water movements , simplify  the process of nutrients adquisition  for  the Seaweeds, which make this the ideal habitat for their  healthy growth. These forests are related to the type of Arctic waters, including  part of the Atlantic Ocean. Note that multiple species of seaweed are developed within these forests.

kombu seaweeds: brown marine algae forrest

History of Kombu Seaweed

These Seaweed are very popular in the Asian Culture;  in Korea they are  known by  the name of Dashima,  and in China they are named  Haida.  In terms of the history of this species, there are references dating from long time ago. For example, the first information about these marine plants , was written in one of the oldest books of  the classical Japanese History; which    receives the name of Nihonshoki, from 797 year.

Even there are some specialized researchers  that assert, that kombu algae  were consumed before the mentioned date;  on the basis that they were present as part of consumption and diet in America 14,000 years ago.

There are also references regarding   cultivation of kombu  seaweed   in the year 1300 aC.  In that time seaweeds were taken out from  the sea,  and subsequently exposed to the sun.  This procedure was carried out  in order to dehydrate them , extending and improving  their conservation methods and promoting  their consumption. So, this  system was certainly the trade engine for  kombu seaweed , first in Japan and later encompassing more countries in Asia; joining  this way to the gastronomies of the continent.

Now, an important contribution in the history of  Kombu Seaweed, dates from   1908, when  Kikunae Ikeda, a  researcher from Tokyo Imperial University, set out to study the properties of these algae.  He discovered that glutamate was the main reason for the peculiar flavor of these plants. The study  was focused,  on  finding  the chemical explanation about why these  seaweeds presented   their  authentic and original taste, which couldn´t be described as sweet, acid, even bitter or salty; as it was the case others Seaweed. 

Moreover, this discovery gave way to a new flavor  defined under the name of Umami,  a  Japanese word that  combines two terms to mean delicious. After these contributions,  the kombu seaweed increased their popularity within the Asian culture,  due to their  characteristic flavor;  becoming  part of the   most known dishes  of Japanese cuisine, through  different generations.

Note that its use in Japan also  increased ,  since it is known  that these plants are a  rich source of fiber and  many important minerals.  Although this alga has always been part of Japanese culture, being a fundamental ingredient for the  base of its main recipes.

Properties of Kombu  Seaweed

These Seaweed are characterized , by having a high content of sugar, among others beneficial elements ;  such as    glutamic acid , iodine, calcium and potassium.

One  portion of 100 grams of dries  kombu seaweed,  contain about 54 grams of carbohydrates,  more than 7 grams of proteins , and about 30 grams fiber. In the same way, besides  of these important contributions, the kombu seaweed contain  others  nutrients such as  iron. The 100 grams serving ,  also provides considerable amounts of nutrients , as about 150 milligrams in phosphorus, 5800 milligrams potassium,  2500 milligrams sodium and 800 milligrams calcium, kombu seaweed propertieswhich is another outstanding property of these seaweed.

The presence of some others important vitamins, such as vitamin B1, B2, B3 and  the high content of vitamin C, make of  kombu seaweed a highly recommended food   for everybody,  but their positive effects  will only be noted, when consuming them in the proper  amount and periodically.

Benefits of Consuming Kombu Seaweed

Taking into account all  the properties  previously mentioned ; there are  many and very positive benefits , for people who consume these seaweed. Remember that the main difference between marine and terrestrial vegetables; is that the nutrients contained in the first ones , are  absorbed in a better way by the human body. It should be noted that  seaweed are less likely to be contaminated; therefore their consumption has more advantages in this regard.

The Kombu Seaweed are also excellent antioxidants , this is because they belong to the group of Brown Seaweed, which contain photosynthetic pigments ,such as chlorophyll and xanthophylls. These pigments also accomplish, a natural purifying role for the body; helping people  fight against  aging. Even when  using them externally , treatments with kombu  Seaweed help with cellulite and beautification of the face.

There are many others  benefits that these algae  can provide;   for example their capacity to relieve the intestinal flora and everything related to the digestive system. This is due to the big amounts of fiber they contain, which  helps with  problems  of constipation and favors the fight against hemorrhoids.  Actually, fiber  eliminates toxins that may be present in the body in a natural way.

It is important to note that fiber, is also ideal for improving the health of the heart and everything related to the cardiovascular system.  Its properties  help reduce cholesterol levels in the body;  a single   serving  every  day,  will  be quite beneficial for the overall health .

Note that a mere serving  of 30 grams  of this marine plant, provides almost the same amount of calcium than  a glass of milk. So, it is an important source of this nutrient;  which  is quite effective to improve the health of bones. It is also excellent to combat diseases such as osteoporosis and impaired bone;  being  an alternative to consume enough calcium, in the diet of vegans and vegetarians. There is no doubt, about the big benefits of  these seaweeds for athletes;  who can easily regain the energy and minerals  lost during physical activity, by  merely adding  the kombu  seaweed to their diets.

 Diseases and conditions that improve after consuming Kombu Seaweed:

In addition to the previous ones, there are other cases where the consumption of kombu Seaweed   improves the  health after sufferings  or specific diseases. As is the case of arthritis,  cramps and in the same way rheumatism.  Some others conditions such as depression, stress or fatigue, colds, anemia , psoriasis, sterility even broken nails, also improve when consuming them.

How to prepare Kombu Seaweed

Kombu can be found in stores, and they are usually sold in small strips, of  variable sizes.  It is recommended to visit different stores  and find a reliable provider before  buying them. To verify  their quality , you should check first if they  have a small layer of white powder on their surface. This means that they are in perfect condition.   At the time of preparing them , it is enough to clean them to remove the layer of dust;  which is usually sea salt.

Once the kombu seaweed have been acquired,  it is recommended  before being added  to any food; to wash them with plenty of water, let them  soak for a few minutes and then cook them   for about 20 minutes. The time will also depend on their thickness . The most important thing is that the cooking process has been completed, since this seaweed needs to be boiled before consuming. Expert chefs suggest that the consistency of the seaweed should be firm,  similar to that of the noodles. Therefore, they should have a fleshy and firm texture after being cooked.

Usually after the cooking time,  their size increase a little bit . After having fulfilled the recommendations above, the Kombu  can be added to recipes for soups, broths, stews, even as seasoning and toast or fried as companions.

Due to the high amounts of  iodine that these seaweeds  contain, they must be boiled  before being consumed;  since the steam will remove part of the iodine. Just for this reason  their consumption  must be moderated, avoiding the excess of iodine in the body which could be harmful.

The best idea is to use them  in stews  or soups ,that contain grains and vegetables; since these seaweed have the faculty to reduce the cooking  time of these meals.  In turn, we will increase  their boiling time; being this  the best alternative.  Another common way to prepare  kombu seaweed, is to let them  boil for at least one hour,  adding them  vegetables as desired.

There is also the option of converting the kombu seaweed  into  powder,  that you can add easily to meals in order to use their  intense flavor as a condiment. For this procedure  you just have  to cut them into strips, and place them in the oven at medium heat,  for at least 10 minutes.  Then you will need a grinder  to make them powder, which can be used in recipes as another ingredient that contributes in flavor. This procedure  won´t  make Seaweeds lose their properties, thus they will always be beneficial for health. 

Preservation   of  Kombu Seaweed:

There are commonly remains of this food , once the needed quantity has been used. Usually small pieces are enough,   to fulfill  the expectations of a recipe, since  kombu  powers any flavor. Then in order to preserve them,  you just have to pack them   again, avoiding  this way moisture and  extreme temperatures.

In the case of keeping them in the form of  powder, moisture should be also avoided ;  since it makes the seaweed  lose their  firm consistency and get fermented.  Moreover, the package of the seaweed often has  the expiration date;  which is usually about 5 years, so in these conditions you will keep them  in the proper state during that time.

Now, we invite you to watch this interesting video, to learn more about these wonderful Seaweed

When to avoid Kombu Seaweed Consumption

Although there is no doubt about  the benefits  of consuming Kombu Seaweeds,  there are some cases where it is contraindicated to consume them.  Specifically if it is about people suffering from hyperthyroidism.

Given the high content of iodine in these algae, their consumption is not recommended in those cases ( hyperthyroidism). The excess in salt consumption, can affect the health of the thyroid. Even if you don’t  suffer from this disease,  you should always moderate the consumption of this vegetable.  But don´t  panic, remember that small amounts of kombu are enough, to take advantage of its properties.

Let´s keep learning

Cultivation of  Kombu Seaweed

The discoveries in recent years regarding the properties of these seaweed, have resulted in a remarkable increase in their consumption. Therefore, scientists and specialists in the subject, have been given the task of studying and improving the Cultivation of  Algae  (especially kombu seaweed );  to fulfill the growing demand for human consumption.

The main cultivation programs, have been developed in countries such as Japan, actually  90% of  kombu  seaweeds come from this country; and also in China and Korea.  As a result the seaweed industry , has had a remarkable growth. This market is currently in expansion ,  in order to satisfy alimentary  and industrial requirements. In addition, this type of cultivation  provides solutions to the   over exploitation of   the natural environments where seaweeds  inhabit.

This cultivation work, also  facilitates the seaweed recollection; reducing the costs of this  process, as well as the reproduction  of species of difficult access.  In this way, the raw material that the industry needs in a steady way, is guaranteed.

In order to make these crops have the expected success, specialists claim that the conditions must be kept as required by kombu seaweeds. This means that crops should be located in protected areas,  satisfying the main physico-chemical and biological aspects  required. The risk of contamination must be also avoided.

In the same way,  seaweed must be free of predators. The handling of this plant must involve care , and the recollection must be studied in order to obtain the maximum productivity; always taking into account their development and reproduction methods.

Cultivation Procedures:

The cultivation of kombu seaweed, is currently carried out in bays about 10 meters deep. To ensure their growth,  they are wrapped in large bamboo sticks that float being held in the form of stakes;  which in turn rest in the sea  through weights. First of all, the spores of kambu  seaweed must  be harvested, specifically from seaweeds that are in a mature state;  this usually happens at the end of the autumn season. Then they must be placed, on steps made of bamboo protruding from the rods.

Subsequently, after a few months, usually in January; these spores begin to develop,  and then  they are positioned on the sticks taking into account the intervals between them.

Then after about five months , they become seaweeds with a measurement of more than three meters;  at this time they are ready to be collected

Note that to develop an appropriated  procedure, specialists had to try various experiments to increase the feasibility of seaweeds  trade;  since at the beginning  this kind of farming was very expensive. Thus, new methods to increase the production of kombu  seaweed were coming up.

In addition the advancements in technologies, have  promoted  and improved  the crops of  these plants by significantly reducing  the cost of the entire process.  As a result the industry has grown, so all countries can acquire a food rich in nutrients  at a low-cost.

Other commercial uses of Kombu Seaweed:

In addition of  being grown for the purposes of the food industry;  this type of nutrient-rich seaweed, have  others commercial uses. For example, since their calx  are rich in iodine;  big amounts of this nutrient are employed  for the production of soaps,  as well as in the glass industry. They  are also used as fertilizers.

Kombu Seaweed are generally marketed as  ingredients for  cooking recipes;  in the same way as Nori Seaweed . They are recognized in Asian countries as a condiment for soups and stews. In other cases they are sold as an edible decoration, even as an ingredient in appetizer recipes.  These algae are commonly  sold,  for specific purposes,  such as to soften beans during cooking;  and also to reduce flatulence.

The most common use for which  kombu seaweed are  commercialized,  is as the main ingredient for  a very popular dish in Asia called Dashi, which  consists of a fish stock where the taste of this alga predominates. For this reason, the kombu Seaweed in these cases ,are  sold in the form  of dries leaves; which are  known by the name  «oboro kombu«. It should be noted that in Korea,  these plants, are known by the name of Dashima;  which is related  to the well-known dish Dashi.

There is a variety , the marinated kombu  seaweed , that has a peculiar bittersweet taste, which is usually found  in stores. This  presentation consists of small strips of seaweed two centimeters wide, and between six to seven centimeters long. This presentation is  commonly sold as part of an aperitif accompanying tea.

Finally, we invite you to  watch this video;  so you can learn, how to make this wonderful Japanese dish known as Dashi..

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