What is Samphire?
You may not be too familiar with it, but samphire is becoming extremely fashionable in dining circles around the world. Not only does it make an excellent accompaniment to numerous dishes but it also comes packed with nutrition and offers a wide range of health benefits from digestion to immune system support.
So what exactly is samphire and what can it do for your taste buds and more importantly – your health?
When we refer to samphire, we are talking about marsh samphire which is known scientifically as Salicornia europaea. This is worth mentioning since it is sometimes confused with rock samphire which belongs to a totally different family of plants and grows in the rocks of the Mediterranean coastline.
Marsh samphire, however, is related to the same family as the beet and while it can also be found close to the sea, it thrives in the estuaries that it colonizes. Marsh samphire is also known as glasswort, sea asparagus, pickleweed and sea beans.
While its new found popularity may have caught the modern eye, the consumption of samphire is certainly nothing new. The vegetable has been eaten in Europe and the British Isles for centuries and was actually mentioned in Shakespeare’s King Lear.
More recently, there is evidence that samphire was eaten by British convicts on their long journey to the Australian prisons that would become their new home. At some point in the last few hundred years, the vegetable lost favor in European kitchens until the recent resurgence in its popularity which has restaurant goers and chefs raving about its taste.
Samphire thrives in the brackish waters close to the ocean. It is especially prolific along the British coastline and along the coast of northern Europe and northwest America. As well as growing wild, it is grown commercially on hydroponic floating platforms in Hawaii and several other places.
How does Samphire Look and Taste?
Samphire is very similar in appearance to asparagus hence the alternative name for this vegetable. Its shoots are thin, smooth and bright green.
As you would expect, it has a salty flavor but it is salty in that good way putting you in mind of the taste in your skin and lips after a dip in the ocean. The texture of the vegetable is crisp and both crunchy and tender. It is absolutely delicious eaten raw as part of a healthy green salad or to accompany sushi or as part of any number of seafood dishes.
If you would prefer your meal to be less salty, you can add your samphire to a stir fried meal or simply blanch it slightly before adding it to your salads.
Samphire is packed with an impressive array of nutrients. It is almost free of fat and extremely low in calories making it an excellent choice for people on a calorie controlled diet. It is also a great digestive aid because it contains plenty of healthy dietary fiber.
Samphire contains a good amount of vitamins A and C as well as some of the B vitamins like folate. Samphire also contains various essential minerals responsible for many of the body’s vital functions including calcium, magnesium and potassium.
As well as its minerals and vitamins, samphire contains certain unique compounds found in various sea vegetables known as fucoidans. These compounds are known to have antioxidant benefits as well as excellent anti-inflammatory effects on the human body.
Health Benefits of Samphire
1) For Digestive Health
We have written a lot on this website about the major health benefits of eating more dietary fiber and I am sure you have been reminded often enough about its importance. Unfortunately, many people do not take heed and estimates suggest that modern western diets fall way short of the recommended intake of fiber.
Samphire is a great source if dietary fiber that can have a number of benefits on your health especially on your digestive system. Dietary fiber can help prevent many of the most common digestive complaints including constipation, bloating, dyspepsia and general stomach upsets. It adds bulk to a person’s stools meaning that it can pass more easily through the intestines.
As well as being beneficial for your digestive system, fiber can have a positive effect on a person’s blood sugar levels, help you to lose weight and may even help prevent certain types of cancer like colon cancer.
2) For Weight Control
Samphire is very low in calories and contains virtually no fat whatsoever. In fact a 100 gram serving of the raw vegetable comes to under 100 calories making it a great choice of food for those who need to lose a few pounds without skimping on taste.
As well as being low in calories, samphire is high in fiber which can improve digestive efficiency but also helps to satiate the appetite. Eating high fiber food like samphire can help you to feel full for longer which makes you less likely to snack on unhealthy foods throughout the day. In the long run, this is likely to result in a good amount of weight loss.
3) To Boost you Immune System
If you find that you are regularly coming down with illnesses like the pesky common cold or the flu, then there is a good chance that your immune system needs a boost. Samphire contains a number of nutrients that can help to improve your immune health significantly and keep illness at bay.
The vitamins A and C perform a wide array of functions in the body including your immune system. Both vitamin A and C are natural antioxidants that can help neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals. Vitamin C also helps to stimulate white blood cell production and these cells act as the body’s first defensive line against foreign bodies like viruses and bacteria.
4) To Improve Bone Health
Samphire is a great source of mineral like calcium that are know to have a significant effect on the growth and development of a person’s bones. Calcium can also help to protect your bones and teeth from disease and weakness later in life.
As we age, we lose mineral density in the bones making us more prone to certain bone complaints. Eating plenty of calcium rich food like samphire can help your body retain its youthful strength and prevent common bone conditions like osteoporosis.
5) For Relaxation and Sleep
What you put inside your body can have a significant effect on the way you feel both physically and mentally. One of the most important minerals found in samphire is magnesium which can have a significant effect on a person’s emotional well-being.
Many people are actually deficient in magnesium and a lack of the mineral is linked to anxiety, depression and insomnia. Magnesium is especially helpful to help balance your body’s circadian rhythms necessary to ensure a good night of sleep.
6) To Combat Inflammation
Inflammation is at the very heart of the vast majority of illnesses including serious, life threatening disorders like heart disease. Inflammation is also responsible for rheumatism, gout, hemorrhoids and numerous skin disorders so eating an anti-inflammatory diet is essential to ensure good health.
Samphire contains certain antioxidant compounds called frucoidans which are also anti-inflammatory. These compounds found in various sea vegetables can help to combat inflammation or to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
7) Antioxidant benefits
The frucoidans mentioned above have excellent antioxidant effects in the body. Coupled with the other antioxidants found in the vegetable like vitamins A and C, this makes samphire an extremely attractive option for your health.
Antioxidant are absolutely essential since they protect the body from damage done by free radicals also known as oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is responsible for a wide range of illnesses as well as speeding up the aging process. Getting plenty of natural antioxidants into your system can help to stall the aging process, repair damage to the cells and help you feel and look younger for that much longer.
Have you ever eaten samphire and if so, what did you think of it. Do you have any favorite samphire recipes that you would like to share? We would love to hear from you.