Comprehensive Description


 Undaria pinnatifida or wakame is a large brown kelp with a branched holdfast giving rise to a stipe. Just above the holdfast, the stipe has very wavy edges, giving it a corrugated appearance. The stipe gives rise to a blade that is broad, flattened and lanceolate. It has a distinct midrib. The margins of the blade are wavy. Plants can reach an overall length of one to three metres. Undaria pinnatifida is an annual species with two separate life stages.

Wakame is a laminarian kelp indigenous to the temperate regions of Japan, China and Korea (Stuart, 2003). It has been spread around the world by international shipping and mariculture. It has extended its range to include 12 countries on four continents since 1981 (Stuart, 2003). Wakame is a non-native species, which may cause displacement of native species. It was first recorded in the UK from the Hamble Estuary in the Solent on 15 June 1994 (Farell & Fletcher, 2000). It tolerates a wide salinity and temperature range. Its morphological and reproductive characteristics make it a very successful invasive species. Undaria pinnatifida possesses a heteromorphic life cycle with alternation of generations between a diploid sporophyte and a haploid gametophyte (Aguilar-Rosas et al., 2004). It may be confused with Alaria esculenta but the corrugated stipe is distinctive.

 Wakame is economically important as a food crop but is also a fouling organism. It is able to compete with native kelp species in the shallow sublittoral/infralittoral zone (Farrell & Fletcher, 2000). It is also effective in providing habitats, nursery areas and protective cover for many species. It grows well in estuarine conditions unlike many of the native kelp species (Farrell & Fletcher, 2000) .
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Physical Description

Type Information

Isotype for Alaria pinnatifida Harv.
Catalog Number: US 56023
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): C. Wright
Year Collected: 1855
Locality: Shimoda (Simodak)., Honshu, Shizuoka, Japan, Asia-Temperate
  • Isotype: Harvey, W. H. 1859. Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts. 4: 329.
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© Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany

Source: National Museum of Natural History Collections


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 Wakame is an introduced species of brown seaweed in Europe found subtidally, often growing on man-made structures such as marina pontoons. In its native habitat, it occurs in dense stands, forming a thick canopy on a wide range of shores from low tide level down to 15 m in clear waters.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Undaria pinnatifida

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Source: Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD)


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Wakame, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy188 kJ (45 kcal)
9.14 g
Sugars0.65 g
Dietary fiber0.5 g
0.64 g
3.03 g
Thiamine (B1)
0.06 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.23 mg
Niacin (B3)
1.6 mg
0.697 mg
Folate (B9)
196 μg
Vitamin C
3 mg
Vitamin E
1 mg
Vitamin K
5.3 μg
Trace metals
150 mg
2.18 mg
107 mg
1.4 mg
80 mg
872 mg
0.38 mg

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Wakame (ワカメ wakame?) is a sea vegetable, or edible seaweed. It has a subtly sweet flavour and is most often served in soups and salads.

Sea-farmers have grown wakame in Japan from the Nara period.[1][better source needed] It has been nominated as among 100 of the world's worst invasive species according to the Global Invasive Species Database.[2]


The name "wakame" was derived from the Japanese name wakame (ワカメ, わかめ, 若布, 和布).[3][4]

  • In English, it can be called "sea mustard".
  • In China, it is called qúndài cài (裙带菜).[5]
  • In French, it is called "wakamé" or "fougère des mers".
  • In Korea, it is called miyeok (미역)[5]

History in the West[edit]

In 1867 the word "wakame" appeared in an English-language publication, A Japanese and English Dictionary, by James C. Hepburn.[6]

Starting in the 1960s, the word "wakame" started to be used widely in the United States, and the product (imported in dried form from Japan) became widely available at natural food stores and Asian-American grocery stores, due to the influence of the macrobiotic movement, and in the 1970s with the growing number of Japanese restaurants and sushi bars.


New studies conducted at Hokkaido University have found that a compound in wakame known as fucoxanthin can help burn fatty tissue.[7] Studies in mice have shown that fucoxanthin induces expression of the fat-burning protein UCP1 that accumulates in fat tissue around the internal organs. Expression of UCP1 protein was significantly increased in mice fed fucoxanthin. Wakame is also used in topical beauty treatments. See also Fucoidan.

Wakame is a rich source of eicosapentaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. At over 400 mg/100 kcal or almost 1 mg/kJ, it has one of the higher nutrient:calorie ratios for this nutrient, and among the very highest for a vegetarian source.[8] A typical 1-2 tablespoon serving of wakame contains roughly 3.75–7.5 kcal and provides 15–30 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. Wakame also has high levels of sodium, calcium, iodine, thiamine and niacin.

In Oriental medicine it has been used for blood purification, intestinal strength, skin, hair, reproductive organs and menstrual regularity.[9]

In Korea, the wakame soup miyeokguk is popularly consumed by women after giving birth as miyeok contains a high content of calcium and iodine, nutrients that are important for nursing new mothers. Many women consume it during the pregnancy phase as well. It is also traditionally eaten on birthdays for this reason, a reminder of the first food that the mother has eaten and passed on to her newborn through her milk, thus bringing good fortune for the rest of the year.


Japanese and Korean sea-farmers have grown wakame for centuries and they still are the main producers and eaters.[citation needed] Since 1983 wakame is also cultivated in France, in sea fields established near the shores of Brittany.[10]

Wild grown wakame is harvested in Tasmania, Australia, and then sold in restaurants in Sydney[11] and also sustainably hand-harvested from the waters of Foveaux Strait in Southland, New Zealand and freeze-dried for retail and use in a range of products.[12]


Wakame fronds are green and have a subtly sweet flavour and satiny texture. The leaves should be cut into small pieces as they will expand during cooking.

In Japan and Europe, wakame is distributed either dried or salted, and used in soups (particularly miso soup), and salads (tofu salad), or often simply as a side dish to tofu and a salad vegetable like cucumber. These dishes are typically dressed with soy sauce and vinegar/rice vinegar.

Goma wakame, also known as seaweed salad, is a popular side dish at American and European sushi restaurants. Literally translated, it means "sesame seaweed", as sesame seeds are usually included in the recipe.[13]

Invasive species[edit]

Native to cold temperate coastal areas of Japan, Korea, and China, in recent decades it has become established in New Zealand, the United States, France, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Argentina, and Australia.[14] It was nominated one of the 100 worst invasive species in the world.[2]

New Zealand[edit]

In New Zealand, wakame is declared as an unwanted organism. It was first discovered in Wellington Harbour in 1987 and probably arrived accidentally in the late 1980s, via shipping from Asia contained in ballast water.

Wakame is now found around much of south-eastern New Zealand, and as far north as Auckland. It spreads in two ways: naturally, through the millions of microscopic spores released by each fertile organism, and through attachment to vessel hulls and marine farming equipment. It is a highly successful and fertile species, which makes it a serious invader. However, its impacts are not well understood and are likely to vary, depending on the location.

Even though it is an invasive species in 2012 the government allowed for the farming of wakame in Wellington, Marlborough and Banks Peninsula.[15]

United States[edit]

The sea plant has been found in several harbors in southern California. In May 2009 it was discovered in San Francisco Bay and aggressive efforts are underway to remove it before it spreads.[16][17][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Man'yōshū "比多潟の 磯のわかめの 立ち乱え 我をか待つなも 昨夜も今夜も" (Poetry on the theme of Wakame)
  2. ^ a b "Global Invasive Species Database". IUCN Species Survival Commission. Retrieved 2009-08-17. 
  3. ^ "Undaria pinnatifida". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 
  4. ^ "Undaria pinnatifida". Seaweed Industry Association. 
  5. ^ a b Abbott, Isabella A (1989). Lembi, Carole A.; Waaland, J. Robert, eds. Algae and human affairs. Cambridge University Press, Phycological Society of America. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-521-32115-0. 
  6. ^ Hepburn, James Curtis (1867). A Japanese and English dictionary: with and English and Japanese index. American Presbyterian Mission Press. p. 516. WAKAME, ワカメ, 若海布, n, A kind of sea weed. 
  7. ^ Maeda, H.; Hosokawa, M.; Sashima, T.; Funayama, K.; Miyashita, K. (2005). "Fucoxanthin from edible seaweed, Undaria pinnatifida, shows antiobesity effect through UCP1 expression in white adipose tissues". Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 332 (2): 392–397. doi:10.1016/j.bbrc.2005.05.002. PMID 15896707.  edit
  8. ^ "545 foods highest in 20:5 n-3". Nutrition Data. Retrieved 2007-02-09. 
  9. ^ Kristina Turner (1996). The Self-Healing Cookbook: A Macrobiotic Primer for Healing Body, Minds and Moods with Whole Natural Foods. ISBN 0-945668-10-4. 
  10. ^ http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-1676 Undaria pinnatifida
  11. ^ "Greens straight out of the blue". The Sydney Morning Herald. August 11, 2009. 
  12. ^ "Pest seaweed could be used against cancer". Southland Times. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  13. ^ http://www.azumafoods.com/products/Goma_Wakame_Sesame_18_25.html
  14. ^ Torres, A. R. I.; Gil, M. N. N.; Esteves, J. L. (2004). "Nutrient uptake rates by the alien alga Undaria pinnatifida (Phaeophyta) (Nuevo Gulf, Patagonia, Argentina) when exposed to diluted sewage effluent". Hydrobiologia 520: 1. doi:10.1023/B:HYDR.0000027686.63170.6c.  edit
  15. ^ "Areas designated for Undaria farming". Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. 19 January 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2012. 
  16. ^ Kay, J. Kelp among top 10 invasive seaweeds hits S.F. San Francisco Chronicle July 8, 2009.
  17. ^ Perlman, D. Divers battle fast-growing alien kelp in bay San Francisco Chronicle July 9, 2009.
  18. ^ "An Underwater Fight Is Waged for the Health of San Francisco Bay" article by Malia Wollan in The New York Times August 1, 2009
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