HijikiChewy and a little bit salty with a hint of the sea, hijiki is a type of sea vegetable.

hijiki saladIt has been part of the Japanese diet for centuries. Historical references state that hijiki became a mainstay in Japanese cuisine because it provided such a wealth of vitamins and minerals, most of which were a compliment to the land grown vegetation. Hijiki is still processed much the same way it has always been; first it is harvested by hand with a sickle, then it is allowed to dry out. Once it has air dried, the hijiki is then taken to a processing facility where it is steamed and reconstituted and then rinsed and cleaned thoroughly. This also removes any potential bitterness and excess salty or sea taste. It is then dried again and packaged and sold.
Hijiki has a long history as a health product and has made its way around the world into other cultures. It became very popular in the U.S. with the onset of macrobiotic diets and has remained on the list of “health” foods while also taking a prominent role as an accompaniment in Japanese cuisine.

hijiki tofuFrom a culinary perspective, hijiki is fibrous and nicely chewy. It can be tossed into soups and stews, or reconstituted and made into nice chewy salad. Today’s flavor was inspired by a lovely bit of hijiki salad in a black bean sauce; part of my macrobiotic platter. Delicious.

From a health perspective, hijiki is high in minerals and vitamins; especially calcium, magnesium and iron. There is more iron in a serving of hijiki than in spinach or other green leafy iron rich vegetables. It is also high in Vitamin A. Research indicates that the chemical compounds found in hijiki have an antimutagenic effect, this means they prevent mutation of rogue cells that could contribute to disease. Hijiki also aids in repairing tissue in the gastrointestinal tract, decreasing the potential for small bowel disease and/or colon cancer.

The downside is that hijiki has been identified by several countried food safety administrations as having relatively high levels of inorganic arsenic so people are cautioned to eat it in small amounts.