In southern Israel’s stifling heat, rows of salicornia, commonly known as sea asparagus or sea beans, grow under translucent tarps, planted into ground more sand than soil, irrigated with saltwater. This environment would kill most plants, but these segmented succulents look beautiful — green and healthy. In partnership with researchers at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, local farmers are exporting them to markets in nearby countries.
Sea beans taste like salty cucumber and grow wild in coastal areas around the globe. But in recent years researchers have begun to focus on them for agriculture, especially in dry coastal regions such as India, Israel, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. These researchers’ efforts are defining what extremes the plant can withstand, its nutrient needs, and how to get it to grow faster and with greater yield. As the planet warms and the seas rise, resilient crops like sea beans might become climate saviors. But only if we are willing to eat them.