Sea beans or Samphire or Salicornia: pros, cons, preparation and storing
Time: prep. 20 mins
cook. 5-10 mins
Yields: 2 portions
Even though you may have never tasted sea beans or samphire or Salicornia etc, you have certainly seen it somewhere: at the fish market, at the market among the fresh vegetable stalls, on restaurant menus or, at the very least, during walks along the swampy, marshy land near the sea.
In the sprigs that resemble coral but are bright green (tending to become wine red at the end of the season), there is a high amount of functional substances; so much so that we can define this humble plant, a super food worthy of note!
Sea beans are rich in vitamins such as Vitamin C, mineral salts such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, bromine and of course iodine; antioxidants such as beta-carotene and chlorophyll; essential fatty acids such as omega-3(1).
Thanks to the functional substances present in various concentrations, the different varieties have specific and surprising phytochemical properties(2):
-> lipid lowering effect – due to the suppression of lipidogenesis(3)
-> antioxidant and antiproliferative for cancer cells – thanks to the presence of saponins and other biomolecules (4)
-> antibacterial – thanks to the presence of methanol and other compounds(5)
-> antidiabetic – constitute an alternative therapy without the undesirable effects of the current classical treatments(6)
-> hepatoprotective – reduce the adverse effects of analgesics by protecting the liver(7)
-> immunomodulator – are able to provoke an immunological response(8)
-> osteoprotective – protect bones by preventing osteoporosis(9)
Benefits for the planet and future generations
But there is another reason why today we are talking about these wonderful specimens of halophytic flora (i.e. plants that can withstand high salinity): their usefulness in safeguarding biodiversity and future generations.
As you know by now CHE Food Revolution prefers sustainable and resilient ingredients, two qualities that are becoming more and more crucial every day in the current world situation: we need a better calibration while choosing our food.
Alas, with the evident climate crisis, our planet is becoming more and more deserted; and because of intensive agriculture based on excessive irrigation, agricultural soils are becoming more and more saline, thus reducing the number of cultivable plants: the cereals mostly cultivated by mankind are often hyper-sensitive to high temperatures and high soil salinity (10).
Therefore I think it is our duty to at least give more space in our diets, to plants that tolerate well these extreme conditions: such as millet (read here the article about this ancient cereal with many qualities) and Salicornia (its scientific name) aka “sea beans”, which indeed tolerate very well a soil salinity of over 3%(11).
Contraindications of sea beans mainly derive from their high salt content (sodium chloride); therefore if you are hypertensive and/or suffer from water retention, you should be cautious and moderate in using them.
Moreover, because of the possible presence of high quantity of oxalates, their consumption could cause a reduced bioavailability of calcium and iron, arrest of bones growth, kidney stones and disorders in blood coagulation; for this reason I suggest not to exaggerate their consumption when raw, or better to prefer recipes based on cooking, useful for the elimination of oxalates present.
Last but not the least, in case they have been harvested in polluted areas, they can be dangerous for human health, as they are great absorbers of heavy metals, therefore can make toxic effects.
What is their season
Being a plant very common in the whole Mediterranean basin (as well as in North America and Asia) we can say the period is the one from spring to summer: it starts in May and ends in September.
In autumn months sea beans become very salty (absorbing a lot of salt from the ground) and some extra attention must be paid. In a scientific study done in order to evaluate the salinity of dried sea beans, it is suggested a 36 hours soaking in order to reduce the concentration down to 0.8%(12): in my experience even one night of soaking is more than enough; in case they are still salty, boil them together with a big potato, so that it will absorb some of their saltiness.
In conclusion, since they cost little to the environment and to the pocket, and moreover so potentially useful to health, let’s try to include them in our diet as much as possible. Among other things, their crunchy texture and sour taste make their presence in salads and side dishes very satisfying.
And here is a recipe simple to make but very tasty, remember that you can store them in the refrigerator from 4 to 6 days, but also freeze them, once cooked, cleaned and portioned, for up to two months.
Ingredients for sea beans salad
1 bunch of glasswort of about 200 grams
1 or more cloves of garlic
1 or more tablespoons of apple vinegar
3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
the juice of half a lemon
AVOID THE USE OF SALT
If you have had access to sea asparagus through the market or better yet a walk near the sea, the first thing to do is to cut off the roots with a sharp knife.
Then wash them very well and blanch them with plenty of water in a large pot: I use my pressure cooker to reduce both the time needed for cooking and the amount of water.
After about 5-10 minutes (with the pressure cooker 5 min) of boiling, remove the sea asparagus from the cooking water and transfer them into a bowl of ice-cold water: in this way we finish cooking them and maintain their beautiful color.
Once they have cooled down, the most unpleasant part begins: cleaning them.
How to clean sea beans
“Every rose has its thorns” and sea asparagus is no exception: the sprig that acts as the “skeleton” of sea asparagus must be removed.
It is a somewhat challenging process, but nothing complicated; just don’t overcook them, otherwise the penalty is a more cumbersome cleaning process.
The concept is very simple: pull the “thorn” of the sea bean from the bottom to the top while keeping thight among your fingers the fleshy part, that’s all! To understand better please watch the video.
Once they are cleaned, they are ready to be seasoned with the sauce you have prepared in the meantime: with minced garlic cloves, vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil.
If you wish, you can serve them immediately or after they have cooled down.
Enjoy and good revolution to all
1) Effect of seawater concentration on the productivity and nutritional value of annual Salicornia and perennial Sarcocornia halophytes as leafy vegetable crops
Ventura, Yvonne et al. Scientia Horticulturae pg 189 – 196 2011 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scienta.2011.02.001
2) Patel S. Salicornia: evaluating the halophytic extremophile as a food and a pharmaceutical candidate. 3 Biotech. 2016;6(1):104. doi:10.1007/s13205-016-0418-6
3) Salicornia herbacea prevents high fat diet-induced hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia in ICR mice. Park SH, Ko SK, Choi JG, Chung SH Arch Pharm Res. 2006 Mar; 29(3):256-64.
4) Pentadecyl ferulate, a potent antioxidant and antiproliferative agent from the halophyte Salicornia herbacea. Wang X, Zhang M, Zhao Y, Wang H, Liu T, Xin Z Food Chem. 2013 Dec 1; 141(3):2066-74.
5) Essaidi I, Brahmi Z, Snoussi A, et al. Phytochemical investigation of Tunisian Salicornia herbacea L., antioxidant, antimicrobial and cytochrome P450 (CYPs) inhibitory activities of its methanol extract. Food Control. 2013;32:125–133. doi: 10.1016/j.foodcont.2012.11.006.
6) Management of type 2 diabetes mellitus by lifestyle, diet and medicinal plants.
Haque N, Salma U, Nurunnabi TR, Uddin MJ, Jahangir MF, Islam SM, Kamruzzaman MPak J Biol Sci. 2011 Jan 1; 14(1):13-24.
7) Preventive Effect of the Korean Traditional Health Drink (Taemyeongcheong) on Acetaminophen-Induced Hepatic Damage in ICR Mice. Yi RK, Song JL, Lim YI, Kim YK, Park KY Prev Nutr Food Sci. 2015 Mar; 20(1):52-9.
8) Synergistic activation of monocytes by polysaccharides isolated from Salicornia herbacea and interferon-gamma. Im SA, Lee YR, Lee YH, Oh ST, Gerelchuluun T, Kim BH, Kim Y, Yun YP, Song S, Lee CK J Ethnopharmacol. 2007 May 4; 111(2):365-70.
9) Effect of Salicornia herbacea on osteoblastogenesis and adipogenesis in vitro. Karadeniz F, Kim JA, Ahn BN, Kwon MS, Kong CS Mar Drugs. 2014 Oct 10; 12(10):5132-47.
10) Bashan, Y., Moreno, M., & Troyo, E. (2000). Growth promotion of the seawaterirrigated oilseed halophyte Salicornia bigelovii inoculated with mangrove rhizosphere bacteria and halotolerant Azospirillum spp. Biology and Fertility of Soils, 32, 265–272
11) Molecular cloning of acetylcholinesterase gene from Salicornia europaea L. Yamamoto K, Oguri S, Chiba S, Momonoki YS Plant Signal Behav. 2009 May; 4(5):361-6.
12) Zhu, W. L., Zhang, M., Zhuo, X., & Cai, J. L. (2007). Effect of different desalting methods on quality changes of dehydrated Salicornia bigelovii Torr. Drying Technology and Equipment, 5(6), 293–298