The intricacies of sea plants and sea vegetables are not common knowledge, so you shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask, “Is seaweed a vegetable?” or, better yet, “Is seaweed a plant?”. These questions then lead you to the most critical question: “Is seaweed safe to eat?”
There are many warnings about consuming sea moss, seaweed, and algae, but each of these categories differs from one another. This article will explore how seaweed is classified and whether it should be considered a food, medicine, or both. Furthering education on the intricacies of ocean plant life is important, so let’s get right into it!
How Do You Classify Seaweed?
Let’s define seaweed before we go any further. Seaweed is incredibly diverse. In fact, there are over 35,000 species of seaweed that have been classified in the world. This means that our understanding of what seaweed can be somewhat limited. Seaweed is both plant and algae… sometimes. Depends on the type of seaweed it actually is.
Depending on your purpose, seaweed is further divided into groups in many different ways. One of the easiest ways to think about the subdivisions of seaweed is their division by color. There are red, green-blue, and brown seaweeds, sea mosses, and algae that all fall under the umbrella term ‘seaweed.’
When we discuss edible seaweed as a food, a few types are more common than others for consumption purposes. Nori, Irish sea moss, sea lettuce, dulse, kombu, and wakame. It’s important to understand that seaweed can be a plant or algae, but nevertheless, seaweed can be rich in nutrients and a valuable part of a balanced diet.
Is Algae a Vegetable?
Algae is, in fact, a vegetable, but not in the way that you might traditionally think. Instead of a vegetable in the classic sense that we are familiar with, algae is a sea vegetable. As we’ve mentioned, not all algae are edible, so not all algae are sea vegetables, as vegetables are aspects of plants consumed as food.
So, is algae a vegetable? We understand that this explanation might be confusing so let’s break it down further.
- Vegetables are foods that are edible.
- Not all algae are edible for human consumption.
- But the algae that are edible are considered sea vegetables.
Most seaweed species considered edible are considered algae and are divided by color — red algae, green algae, and brown algae. This makes it a little bit easier to determine which types of seaweed or algae you are looking to eat.
What is a Sea Vegetable?
Now that we have established that algae are a type of sea vegetable, what is a sea vegetable? According to Mind Body Green, sea vegetables are not plants but edible marine algae. We don’t commonly associate sea vegetables with being edible because they are so far removed from our average diet. Or are they? In some cultures, sea vegetables are prominent staple foods.
In Asian countries, such as Japan, sea vegetables, such as seaweed, are eaten daily in traditional meals. You can also find sea vegetables consumed in traditional meals in northern coastal countries such as Scandinavian countries and Scotland. Sea moss is a common ingredient in foods that we don’t typically think of when it comes to consuming seaweed.
Is seaweed edible, then? Some are, but not all. While sea vegetables can include seaweed, not all seaweeds are sea vegetables. This is a symptom of the problem of using seaweed as a broad umbrella term.
Are Seaweed Alive or Not Alive?
As marine plant life and algae are living, seaweed is also alive. We tend to not think of seaweed as plants because they don’t need the typical ingredients for plants we are familiar with. They live under the water, so we assume they do not need sunlight, they do not have roots, and they cannot be overwatered.
But if this is all true, then how does seaweed stay alive? Contrary to popular belief, seaweed photosynthesize while in the ocean and absorbs seawater and nutrients through its structures rather than through roots. Seaweed uses sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to nourish itself, just like above-ground plants do.
In this way, seaweed, algae, and sea moss are all structures that are alive beneath our ocean, and they are plants or algae and are incredibly nutrient-rich! Some people prefer to use seaweed as a form of medicine because these ocean plants and algae have so many nutrients in them. However, this does not mean that “taking” seaweed is the only way to access these nutrients. The antioxidants and vitamins in seaweed are the primary reason so many cultures eat seaweed as a staple food.
Is Seaweed Actually Cabbage?
Another common misconception is the connection between seaweed and cabbage. This false connection comes from some Chinese cuisine where some dishes use seaweed-like cabbage that is fried and made crispy. The dish is called “Crispy Seaweed,” but in this case, seaweed is not cabbage; instead, the cabbage in these dishes is cooked to resemble seaweed.
Flipside, some types of red cabbage do have their roots in similar marine vegetation.
Given the choice of having “Crispy Seaweed” cooked with cabbage or seaweed, you may want to choose seaweed. You can enjoy delicious crispy edible seaweed without health concerns in your meals.
After all of this discussion, do you think seaweed is a vegetable? The types of seaweed that are edible fit into the vegetable family. Some cultures rely on seaweed as necessary components of their diets to incorporate crucial vitamins and greens. Thinking of seaweed, sea moss, and algae as medicine rather than food is somewhat shortsighted to the potential for these sea vegetables to comprise essential aspects of a diet.
If you would like to know more information about how seaweed can be regularly ingested in your diet rather than being “taken” as a medication, subscribe to our newsletter! There are numerous ways to incorporate sea vegetables into your diet, including a sea moss drink that we just can’t get enough of. We would love to help provide you with fun facts about seaweed, sea moss, and algae.