Culture / Food

Sea Asparagus – a Touch of Green Ocean Saltiness

It wasn’t until I lived in Vancouver, BC, I knew  of sea asparagus, another vegetable  that grows like a thick wild green lawn, along the ocean intertidal shores.  It is harvested by hand.  Sea asparagus, sea beans, samphire or its biological name, salicorum virginica, bears no resemblance, to asparagus spears that grow in farmers’ fields.

Sea asparagus. An ocean lichen-like plant that grows along intertidal  ocean shores from British Columbia to California. To be used very sparingly since it's quite salty. Photo by J. Chong 2014.

Sea asparagus. An ocean tiny branch-bud-like short succulent grass that grows along intertidal ocean shores from British Columbia to California. To be used very sparingly since it’s quite salty. Photo by J. Chong 2014.

Sea asparagus is a delicate, green tiny plant that’s best bought fresh and in a pile that’s bundled up for the customer.  You need to store it in the fridge in a paper bag and  use it up within 3-4 days. Vendor literature claims up to 14 days for fridge shelf life. This has not been my experience. This  sea vegetable plant simply turns brown and shrivels up into salty bits.

Sea asparagus like one of Nature’s   other sea vegetables, seaweed.  However like  some seaweeds, use sea asparagus sparingly since its salt content is high.  Sure,  just 3-4 raw sprigs  is just enough for the day.

Huge pile of fresh sea asparagus to scoop bunches for sale and home.  Sold at some farmers' markets in Greater Vancouver. 2013.

Huge pile of fresh sea asparagus to scoop bunches for sale and home. Sold at some farmers’ markets in Greater Vancouver. 2013.

I have chopped sea asparagus roughly and treated it similar to soy sauce for cooking savoury dishes that have sauces, in a stew, scrambled eggs or with meat.  I tend to add sea asapargus within last 5-10 min. of cooking.  On the rare occasion putting just a few buds in a sandwich as a condiment,  will enliven your sandwich filling.

More Interesting Reading
Bauchnet, Rebecca.  Sea Veggies . In Eat Magazine. Apr. 2012, p. 31.

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30 thoughts on “Sea Asparagus – a Touch of Green Ocean Saltiness

  1. is this one connected to ‘normal’ asparagus only by name or they actually are more similar? I mean, I wouldn’t give my husband one because later I don’t want to inhale what will come out of him haha ;) so maybe this could be an alternative!

    • Though abit pricey, one only needs a couple of sprigs to flavor a dish for 1-2 people. One can also buy it pickled which I have no idea how it tastes.

  2. I’ve never heard of sea asparagus. It looks very similar to the usual variety you find in supermarkets. It sounds salty. I always like the regular kind: crunchy and fresh-tasting, there are so many ways you can serve up asparagus. I like eating them with dip, but I really like them stir-fried with chicken. However, as tasty as they are, asparagus seems to play second fiddle to other green vegies like lettuce and cabbage. I wonder why. It tastes so good.

    • Sea asparagus is just a slang name for what is closer to a seaweed. Not an asparagus at all. I’m a fan of asparagus also. To me lettuce and cabbage are just filler green veggies, no particular defined taste in either.

    • You shouldn’t have super problems finding this one in your neck of the woods, jb. But it only appears for a very restricted time period at local markets or gourmet food shops.

  3. This is very interesting (looking cute one and must be easy to cook as it’s small)Jean!,I have never heard of it before either,so looked it up and seems there are a few places we can get in Japan! Well we have a food that it’s new to hear for you……it’s called “Sea grapes(direct transfer as people in Okinawa area call it and it’s knows as the name in rest of Japan but English name is Caulerpa lentillifera)”.

    Here is the picture of the food that it’s from home page of a town of Okinawa’s fish association company or something that I found.

    http://www.onnagyokyou.com/?page_id=15

    (I haven’t tried it as I don’t like the texture of those food like sea urchin(people who love sushi knows it) and eggs of salmon,which is also sushi’s.)

  4. Wow, I had never even heard of sea asparagus. Sounds like a veggie I’d enjoy. Thanks for the introduction.

    Sorry to have been absent from the blogosphere recently. We were without internet for two weeks, and then I was in the US for nearly another two. Gosh, I’m glad to be home in Cuenca.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

  5. Hi Jean,
    I could have sworn I commented on this post the day after you published it but maybe I was so tired I was just imagining that.

    I have only seen sea asparagus in Vancouver. If anyone harvests or markets it here in the islands I’m not aware of it. I’ve never tried it but now I’ve read that it’s crunchy, flavorful, and that a little goes a long way, the next time we are on the big island for some to buy and try in stir fries.

    • I like the way how you refer Vancouver Island as the “big island”. That’s what Hawai’ians refer Hawaii Island where Honolulu is located, as the “Big Island”. Sound exotic, the “other”. :)

  6. Hi, Jean! When I first saw this post, I thought: how does this tie into bicycles– does she grab a handful of sea asparagus as she rides by?? : )

    Like other commenters, I’d never heard of it. Next time I’m in a seafood restaurant and they bring me “field asparagus,” I’m gonna say: “Take this back– I want the real thing!!” : )

    • If I grabbed a handful for cycling, I would become highly dehydrated! :) Yes, and the restaurant server will be in slight shock, not understanding “sea” asparagus.

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