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Gracilaria: The Health Benefits of Ogo-Nori Red Seaweed

Gracilaria is a form of red algae that, like many marine plants, is considered a sea vegetable suitable for human consumption. What are the nutritional highlights of Gracilaria, where does it come from, and how is it eaten? We have these answers and more.

What Is Gracilaria?

The red alga Gracilaria (from the family Gracilariaceae, genus Gracilaria) can be found growing on undersea rocks (attached by a discoid holdfast, which basically means it's anchored by a disc-shaped root structure), nestled in sandy bottoms (with its thallus (root-like body) partially buried), or floating around loose and free in calm waters.

Species of Gracilaria include: 

  • Gracilaria eduli
  • Gracilaria confervoides
  • Gracilaria verrucosa
  • Gracilaria salicornia
  • Gracilaria parvispora
  • Gracilaria gracilis
  • Gracilaria lemaneiformis

This warm water seaweed is found all over the world, from the coasts of Chile to the Sea of Japan. The Gracilaria species of algae has been used as a food in many seaside cuisines for hundreds of years. In Jamaica it's known as "Irish moss," in the Philippines as "gulaman" (where it's used to make vegan-friendly gelatin), and in Japan as "ogo-nori." By whatever name it's known, Gracilaria is an intertidal macroalgae that's been used as a food source for both humans and herbivorous fish from the Hawaiian shores to the coast of Indonesia.

But that's not all it can do.

    According to the Journal of Applied Phycology and the Fish and Aquaculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), throughout its life cycle Gracilaria can be harvested as a source of agar-agar (agarose), a gelatinous compound used as a natural vegetarian thickener in foods like soups, salad dressings, gravies, and frozen desserts like ice cream. Additionally, red algae-derived polysaccharide gums are used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, various kinds of toothpaste, and more.

    Gracilaria as its own dish is usually eaten cold, but for its health benefits, it can be found in powdered and capsule supplement forms.

    The Top 3 Red Seaweed Health Benefits

    The Top 3 Red Seaweed Health Benefits

    Red algae falls into the Rhodophyta class of marine algae, a division alongside Glaucophytes (freshwater unicellular algae) and Viridiplantae (green algae and land plants). Long present in Eastern and Asian diets, these red seaweeds are rich in fiber, protein, and vitamins. Here are the most impressive health benefits of red algae. 

    1. Antiviral

    Red seaweeds are excellent sources of carrageenan, a polysaccharide (sugar molecule) that may benefit interferon production that's needed for the immune system. This means consuming red algae could help prevent viral infections like cold sores, shingles, and HIV. While it's possible to develop an immunity to pharmaceutical antiviral medications, there's no indication that the same happens with dietary algae. 

    Moreover, Gracilaria also contains a good portion of vitamin C, a natural antioxidant that may protect against cold and flu infection. The iodine contained in most edible seaweeds is important for your thyroid function too, which produces hormones needed to regulate the body's heart function, digestion, and metabolic rate, as well as brain development, muscle control, and mood maintenance—all vital aspects of health and well-being.

    2. Anti-Inflammatory

    The anti-inflammatory compounds in red marine algae may have neuroprotective effects for those with diseases like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. Regular red seaweed consumption is sometimes recommended for those with painful, swollen, or arthritic joints, as it may help cut down on the need for NSAIDs for arthritis sufferers.

    3. Anti-Aging

    Gracilaria and other red seaweeds are natural collagen sources. Collagen is needed not only for smooth, youthful skin, but also for supple connective tissues within the body. When most people think of collagen they think of bone broth soup, but there are vegetarian sources of collagen too, which is why marine algae are found in many cosmeceuticals, whether consumable or topical, to help fight visible signs of aging on our skin.

    Gourmet Gracilaria

    Gracilaria, also called ogo-nori, can be found in clean, healthy recipes, including the following.

    • Japanese seaweed saladThis truly vegetarian dish from Emily Han at The Kitchn, combines torn or chopped Gracilaria with sliced Japanese or Persian cucumbers and cubed firm tofu, and then dresses the mixture with rice vinegar, sesame oil, honey or agave nectar, ginger, and soy sauce (or tamari or liquid amino acids). Garnish with chives and black sesame seeds, then enjoy.
    • Hawaiian ahi poke bowlFrom Jayson Kanekoa at Food Republic, this classic Hawaiian dish mixes fresh ingredients like cubed ahi tuna, sliced green onions, chopped roasted garlic, and fresh red seaweed in a bowl flavored with tasty soy sauce and hot chili flakes.
    • Korean Seaweed soup: This traditional Korean recipe from Eunah Lee at All Recipes combines minced beef sirloin with sesame oil, soy sauce, and seaweed for a rich, warm, and hardy soup recipe.

    Good Gracious Gracilaria

    Other examples of red algae include laver (sushi nori), dulse, and coralline algae, but green and brown seaweeds like wakame have amazing health benefits too. Just as with land vegetables, you almost can't go wrong with adding any type of edible sea veggie to your plate.

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