[Fiji] The Yasawa region is one of the key centres of Fiji’s seaweed production industry, with most of it exported to the Asian countries for use in food and medicine.
But what is so special about Fiji’s red seaweed that has scientists so excited, and, can we learn to use it in the same way as other nations to prevent life threatening diseases?
Humankind has been eating seaweed since ancient times. Early civilisations chose to live near the sea in order to obtain seaweed not only for food, but also as a medicine that seemingly helped to prevent sickness and disease.
In Asia and as far as Alaska and the west coast of Scotland, the native diets of coastal civilisations have included seaweed.
Seaweed is also one of the main staple foods for fish, seals and polar bears.
In the traditional Fijian diet, seaweed comes in the form of lumi, the golden hair seaweed you find at Fiji’s outdoor markets on Saturday morning, and nama sea grapes.
So what’s so special about seaweed that nearly every ocean species includes this vegetable-of-the-sea in their diet?
NATURE’S CHEMICAL WEAPON AGAINST DISEASE
Seaweed is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are uniquely found in the sea and not on land. It is rich in iodine and unique compounds that are effective in protecting our body.
And that has scientists and Government excited about developing Fiji’s seaweed industry; because one species that grows really well here, may hold the cure for some of humankind’s deadliest diseases — the red seaweed.
American biochemists discovered 10 new molecular structures with pharmaceutical potential in a species of red seaweed that lives in the shallow coral reefs on northern Fiji.
Some of these natural compounds showed the potential to kill cancer cells, bacteria and the HIV virus, according to research at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US.
They say the seaweed likely developed its unique germ-killing compounds to attack its predators and protect itself from disease.
Marine organisms can create molecules and compounds for reproduction, defense, and disease resistance. The unique compounds can deter predators by poisoning them, slowing their growth, sterilising them, or even killing them outright.
This may also help researchers find ways to create valuable medicines from the red seaweed and other reef species that may one day help to cure some cancers and HIV/AIDS, explained Georgia Tech biologist Mark Hay back in 2010.
In the war against mosquito-borne malaria, researchers have also identified the red seaweed found in Fiji as a potential weapon.
The seaweed produces an antifungal compound, which research is showing can kill the malaria parasite.
If the compound proves effective in animal and human studies, it could become the newest weapon against a disease that kills more than a million people a year.
SEAWEED FARMERS OF DRAWAQA
In tonight’s episode, we visit Drawaqa Village on Yaqeta island in the northern Yasawas, as passengers onboard Captain Cook Cruises’ 4 and 7 day Yasawa adventure package.
Like many of Fiji’s islands, Yaqeta has beautiful beaches and great diving spots, but just around the corner, the villagers are taking part in one of Fiji’s most exciting and potentially lucrative sea farm ventures. With help from the Government and training assistance from countries like Indonesia, red seaweed farms like Yaqeta have learnt how to grow and harvest this sought after sea medicine.
Once matured, the seaweed is harvested and dried under tarpaulins, ready for collection and eventual transportation overseas.
It has not only provided an alternative source of income that doesn’t use land, but these villagers are playing a vital role in helping to make Fiji a major source of the world’s medicinal red seaweed that may one day help cure some of our most deadliest diseases.
EAT MORE SEAWEED
There are many varieties of seaweed around the world and Fijian cuisine features two of the more popular; lumi and nama.
The golden lumi seaweed and nama sea grapes are often found at the markets, but how many of us are actually eating it as part of a regular diet? In most of the Asian cuisine seaweed is already an integral part of the diet and can be found in soups, stir fry, casserole hotpots and of course, sushi.
The Japanese have long believed that seaweed, along with green tea, mushrooms and soybeans, is a major contributing factor for its country’s low breast cancer rates among women and extraordinary long life.
Lumi is rarely seen used in modern Fijian cooking but its traditional use as a gelatin is seen in another outdoor market delicacy; the lumi coconut jelly, which is normally eaten with seafood.
Seaweed is a natural and vegan source of gelatin, which comes as a powder or strips, and used to firm jellies, custards, cold-set cheesecakes and the Italian dessert, panna cotta.
Although a dessert, the technique of setting a panna cotta with gelatin inspired me to create two of tonight’s new recipes based on kokoda.
When prepared properly with fresh coconut milk and fish cured in lemon and not vinegar, the Samoan-originated kokoda is an absolute, silky smooth delight. But what if you added a little gelatin to the coconut milk and let it set in the fridge?
It turns out that the only difference is a textural one; meaning it tastes exactly the same, except the savoury coconut jelly melts in your mouth.
The firmer coconut milk also means that you can garnish the top with any type of seafood and use any amount of sea vegetables and colourful ocean ingredients to create more than just kokoda; it can be a colourful masterpiece.
Tonight we also learn new ways to enjoy sea clams, inspired by a popular tropical island cocktail, and have you ever thought to use grilled meats in your kokoda instead of fish or prepare the orange roe of imported scallops as a sauce? Tune in tonight!
Finally, credit to Fiji’s Ministry of Agriculture for assisting the many islands in the northern regions to kickstart the seaweed industry, and similar ventures including nama sea grape farms.
It may take a while for Fijians to eat more seaweed as a medicine, but these new export opportunities have showcased Fiji’s aquaculture possibilities to the world because of our rich agricultural history and pristine oceans. These are the secrets of Fiji’s outer islands.
View original article at: Yaqeta island