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Samphire : sea asparagus FOOD & COOKING

Samphire : sea asparagusSamphire, also known as sea asparagus or sea pickle, is a unique and versatile edible plant that is native to coastal regions around the world. With its distinct taste, crunchy texture and impressive nutritional profile, Samphire is becoming increasingly popular in restaurants and home kitchens alike.

Samphire is found in various locations throughout the UK, particularly in the South and East of England, as well as in Wales and Scotland. There are two main types of Samphire, Rock Samphire and Marsh Samphire, which grow in slightly different environments and are harvested using different methods.

Rock Samphire grows on cliffs and rocky outcrops, typically in exposed coastal areas. It is harvested in late Spring or early summer, usually in June or July, before it flowers. Rock Samphire is traditionally harvested by hand, often using a knife or pair of scissors to snip the plant off at the base. However, as it can be dangerous to harvest Rock Samphire in some locations, it is increasingly being grown commercially in controlled environments.

Marsh Samphire, on the other hand, grows in salt marshes and mudflats along the coast, typically in more sheltered areas. It is harvested in the summer months, usually from July to September, when it is at its peak. Marsh Samphire is typically harvested using a sharp knife, cutting the stems at the base of the plant.

In terms of cultivation, Samphire is a hardy plant that does not require much attention or care. It grows well in coastal areas with well drained soil and plenty of sunlight, and is tolerant of salt spray and windy conditions. Some commercial growers are now cultivating Samphire in polytunnels or greenhouses to extend the growing season and ensure a more consistent supply.

Appearance and Types of Samphire

Samphire is a succulent, edible plant which typically has a bright green colour and its long, slender stems resemble miniature asparagus stalks.

Nutritional Benefits of Samphire

Samphire is a nutrient dense food that is low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals.

  • Vitamin C - It is an excellent source of vitamin C, which supports immune function and skin health

  • Vitamin A - which supports eye health and immune function

  • Iron - Samphire is also a good source of iron, which is essential for healthy blood cells.

  • Potassium - which supports heart health and helps regulate blood pressure.

Health Benefits of Samphire

In addition to its impressive nutritional profile, Samphire also offers a range of potential health benefits. For example, it has been suggested that the high levels of antioxidants in Samphire may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Some studies have also suggested that Samphire may have anti-inflammatory properties, which could help reduce the risk of conditions such as arthritis and asthma.

Cooking with Samphire

Samphire is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes, both raw and cooked. It is often used as a garnish, either fresh or lightly blanched, to add flavour and texture to seafood dishes such as fish, scallops and shrimp. It can also be used in salads or mixed with other vegetables, such as tomatoes and cucumbers. When cooked, Samphire can be steamed, boiled or sautéed, and it pairs well with a range of flavours, including garlic, lemon and butter. I never wash my Samphire (especially if using raw) otherwise it loses its saltiness which is part of its flavour.

Sustainable Harvesting and Environmental Impact

As Samphire grows in coastal regions and salt marshes, it is susceptible to damage from pollution and over harvesting. However, when harvested sustainably, Samphire can be a low impact, environmentally friendly food source. For example, some chefs and food producers are now working with local fishermen to harvest Samphire in a way that minimises environmental impact and ensures a sustainable supply.

Samphire is a unique and delicious ingredient that offers a range of potential health benefits and culinary applications. Whether enjoyed fresh as a garnish or cooked as part of a dish, Samphire is a versatile and nutritious addition to any diet.


David Jenkins

Photograph courtesy of The Fish Society

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