It’s time to eat more seaweed.
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Odds are you've come across wakame once or twice without ever knowing its name. The green seaweed is a rather ubiquitous vegetable in Asian cuisine, making it a favorite among sushi restaurants everywhere. And that mass appeal is a good thing once you discover that wakame is actually an invasive seaweed species that has the potential to disrupt ocean life as we know it, if it goes unchecked. 

The easiest way to contain wakame? Eat more of it. Luckily, while wakame may be bad news for the world's oceans, it's actually great for us in moderation. More specifically, the edible seaweed is packed with vitamins and minerals, and boasts several key nutritional benefits.

Keep reading to find out more about wakame and what it can do for you.

Where Does Wakame Come From?

According to the National Park Service (NPS), wakame, or undaria, is a "notorious marine invader." 

"Undaria is a large, golden-brown kelp native to Japan, Korea, and China. It doesn't travel fast or far on its own, but it is a skilled hitchhiker," the NPS states. "As ship and boat traffic has increased around the world, it has caught rides to distant shores on boat hulls or in ballast water. If conditions are right in the new harbors it reaches—and a wide range of conditions will do—it will spread. Before long, it can cling to new boat hulls, clog docks, smother fishing gear, disrupt marine farming, or even alter marine ecosystems. Such impacts have earned it a spot among the world's 100 worst invasive species."

While not ideal for the world's oceans, this seaweed has at least found its purpose as foodstuff for humans. According to Pacific Harvest, the sea vegetable has played an "important role in the eating habits of the Japanese, and excavations have shown sea plants such as wakama to have been consumed as far back as 10,000 years ago in Japan."

Wakame farming began in 1943 when Youshiro Ohtsuki patented cultivation techniques. Since then, it's boomed in popularity. Per research from Markets and Markets, the seaweed cultivation market was estimated to be valued at $16.7 billion in 2020.

Wakame Nutrition Benefits

According to Emmie Satrazemis, a board-certified sports nutritionist, registered dietitian, and nutrition director at Trifecta, wakame is packed with nutrients, can help reduce high blood pressure, and is worthy of a spot in your diet. 

1 Wakame is loaded with key nutrients.

Wakame is a "source of copper, iron, and B vitamins. It's also incredibly low in calories and high in phytonutrients, like chlorophyll and other plant-based compounds that are thought to provide protective health benefits," Satrazemis says.

2 Wakame is a great source of iodine.

Additionally, Satrazemis notes sea veggies like wakame tend to be an excellent source of natural iodine, which can be important for thyroid function. 

However, those who need to watch their salt intake should go easy on the wakame. And even people who don't need to monitor how much salt they consume should be aware that too much iodine can lead to an upset stomach.

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3 Wakame is beneficial for people with high blood pressure.

In addition to improving thyroid function, studies suggest wakame could be beneficial for those who suffer from high blood pressure and could help people lower their cholesterol as well.

4 Wakame packs manganese, magnesium, and calcium.

Per the USDA National Nutrient Database, two tablespoons of wakame comes with a healthy dose of manganese, magnesium, and calcium. And in those two tablespoons, you'll also only find five measly calories. However, the USDA warns against consuming too much wakame, as it does contain a high amount of sodium. 

Still, Satrazemis enthusiastically condones eating more wakame, saying, "Yes, if you enjoy eating seaweed, then go for it." However, she does note that eating fistfuls of wakame won't solve all your problems. "It is not necessary for everyone to consume," she adds. "Your health and diet goals are much more strongly impacted by your daily lifestyle and overall nutrition than by any single food or meal."

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Where to Buy Wakame and How to Store It

Wakame is everywhere these days. It can be found in local Asian markets, along with mass markets like Whole Foods and online via Amazon. The only important thing to consider when buying wakame is its source and quality—you want to look for wakame that's been harvested directly from clean waters in the ocean and seas near China, Japan, or Korea.

If you purchase dried wakame, it is best stored in a cool, dry, dark place like a pantry, where it will last for up to one year in sealed packaging. Once rehydrated, it will last for up to four days in the refrigerator. It can also be stored in the freezer for up to one year, but always check the expiration date on the packaging to make sure it's still safe to eat. 

And if you're ready to incorporate more wakame into your meals, consider using it as a base for a tasty seaweed salad, toss some in a bowl of miso soup, or sprinkle some wakame flakes on top of your next homemade avocado toast.