Sea Beans (Samphire)
Sea Beans, also known as samphire and a myriad of other names, have a centuries-old culinary history. Before the name mutated into what it is today, samphire was named after Saint Pierre, the patron saint of fisherman. While this gives evidence to the fishermen’s seal of approval, many have claimed that Shakespeare wasn’t too fond of it himself. In King Lear, he wrote, “Half-way down hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!” (Act IV, Scene VI, Lines 18-19). Dangling from cliffs for a plant does seem a little extreme, but Shakespeare was actually referring to a leafier and thinner plant known as rock samphire. Today, we enjoy the marsh samphire that is hardier, more flavorful and easier to harvest. Marsh samphire are thick, grass-like plants that usually grow in bays and coastal areas throughout the world. However, they can also be found at inland salt marshes and in gardens, though they lose a lot of their briny flavor when planted in sweet soil. With a powerful salt-and-peppery flavor, grassy aftertaste and crunchy texture, these small vegetables make a big impact that can’t be replaced by anything else.
Other Names: Salicornia, saltwort, glasswort, pickle weed, sea asparagus
Origin: Pacific NW, USA (April-September)
Shelf Life: Sea Beans will stay green and crisp for up to two weeks.
Nutritional Facts: Samphire is a tasty, low-calorie food with no fat and and almost no carbs. 100 grams of sea beans have 13 grams of protein, 13% RDA of Vitamin A and 11% RDA of both iron and calcium. Folk remedies and literature have praised sea asparagus for helping to cure constipation, asthma, and even diabetes. While those claims have yet to be proven, sea beans have been scientifically shown to strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, and prevent hypertension and tumor growth. They even serve as a weight loss aid and anti-oxidant.
Tips: Eat them fresh in salads, deep fry them in batter for a snack, or steam them for a minute or two, coat in garlic butter, and scatter over halibut.
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