Salicornia: Sustainable Vegetable That Grows Even in Desert


Researchers see it as the vegetable of the future, due to its ability to grow and be irrigated with seawater. Today, many chefs use it in their preparations and for many, it is a real delicacy.

Nature provides us with numerous plants that can be included in our diet and, in addition, they are sustainable. This is the case of Salicornia, a vegetable that grows along the coasts of Asia, Europe, and North America. Even in the desert! 

It is also known as sea asparagus. It belongs to the family of halophytes, plants that can tolerate saltwater environments. And it is precisely this characteristic that makes it a sustainable food, as well as nutritious and with numerous health properties. 

In fact, it is a medicinal plant with a long tradition. In the 17th century, sailors ate Salicornia because they believed it could boost their immune systems. It was also used in traditional Korean medicine to improve digestion and treat diabetes. Why are these benefits attributed to it?

Nutritional Properties

Salicornia is a plant with a crunchy texture and is rich in proteins, carbohydrates, unsaturated fatty acids (good for the heart and health in general), vitamins A, B1, B15, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and iodine. Thanks to its mineral wealth, especially the last three nutrients mentioned, this plant hydrates and contributes to electrolyte balance.

Also, a large amount of water present in this plant has a diuretic and purifying effect. In addition, this ‘sea asparagus’ also contains a good amount of fiber that helps the regularity of intestinal transit. On the other hand, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective and osteoprotective properties are attributed to it, according to a study published in the Ibero-American Science Magazine. 

Salicornia is an ingredient that is increasingly used in cosmetics due to its high moisturizing capacity. Its topical use also has a therapeutic purpose. For example, reducing itching points out a study carried out by the University of Aalborg, in Denmark.

Take Advantage of it in the Kitchen 

Due to its salty and crunchy taste, this wild plant is used as a green salad, even in some cultures, it is considered a delicatessen. Only the green and tender parts are recommended, as the reddish color is too high in salinity and silica. In some communities, the shoots are made into fermented beverages or vinegar.

Since Salicornia is considered a vegetable, it admits other culinary preparations. For example, it can be eaten steamed, as a garnish for fish and shellfish, as it enhances the flavor of these foods, or fried. A high-quality oil is also extracted from its seeds. 

Because it is a wild plant, it is convenient to blanch it in unsalted water for a few minutes before preparing it raw. It should also be borne in mind that due to its high salinity, it is not necessary to add more salt to recipes or abuse it.

A Sustainable Plant 

In the context of food uncertainty that we are experiencing, various research groups study its extensive cultivation, not only for its use in cooking but also as a raw material for the production of animal feed. For these researchers, the high salt content would not be a problem, since its seeds contain less sodium and, in any case, processes could be applied to extract this mineral. 

Finally, the use of Salicornia is not only limited to cooking or cosmetics. It is also being investigated for the production of biodiesel and biomass and was used to make soap. 

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