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Ingredient Spotlight: Heron Farms Sea Beans

Welcome to the first installment of our series that focuses, each season, on a different exciting ingredient that’s being utilized in restaurants and bars around Charleston!

Sea Beans (a.k.a. Salicornia Virginica), are our first Ingredient Spotlight – specifically, sea beans grown by lowcountry hydroponics star, Heron Farms. Sam Norton, a College of Charleston biology grad, began Heron Farms with an ambitious dream to harness the power of a humble marsh vegetable he grew up eating throughout his childhood in Isle of Palms. Sea Beans (which go by a variety of other delightful names like “sea pickle” and “sea asparagus”) are the world’s most salt-tolerant halophyte, placing it among the ranks of other local familiars, like spartina grass, which thrive in the salty marshes of the lowcountry. 

a close up of a plastic container

Salicornia’s ability to pull salt out of seawater and to restore areas of harbor dredge into healthy marsh make it a perfect plant to be growing around the Holy City, which experiences significant saltwater flooding with every heavy rain. But salicornia harbors another superpower that suits Charleston perfectly – it’s delicious. The harvested plants are delicate and beautifully green, boasting a grassy, salty, mineral bite. Local chefs have already begun to deploy the sea beans in restaurants throughout the city, and it seems that their unique “merroir”, evocative of the salt waters in which they thrive, are particularly well suited to complement the subtle flavors of local seafood. Chefs at Husk, Prohibition, and Chubby Fish have used the greens on rare or raw seafood plates, while Renzo and Low Tide Brewing have made more unconventional use of the plant by baking it into bread and brewing it into a specialty beer. It’s even been spotted popping up in a boozy creation called “The Salt Horn” by local cocktail craftsman @holycityhandcraft.

a plate of food on a table

In addition to becoming a feature in some of our favorite restaurants, Charlestonians have been snapping up sea beans from local vendors, like the Veggie Bin, to use in their own kitchens. Heron Farms’ website has some handy recipes available for home chefs. As Sam Norton continues to expand his growing saltwater enterprise, we’re excited to see his magic beans pop up in many more dining rooms around Charleston. Be sure to keep an eye out for them in your oyster mignonette, or atop a seafood tower, during your next Charleston visit.

-Palmer Stowe