BESIDE THE SEAWEED
As an island we are not more than a couple of hours from a beach and if we had the sun all year imagine what Ireland would be like. We are not short therefore of useful ingredients from the water besides just fish there is of course salt, seaweed or marine algae for want of a better term. I prefer to call them sea produce or vegetables and herbs which are also another edible ingredient available both on the beach fronts and in the water. You might have had the trendy sea asparagus or green samphire on a fish dish. We have these natural ingredients in spades and bucket loads. There are a myriad of varieties and you probably wonder what they are as you kick them about.
Some west of Ireland coastal communities have known about the benefits of seaweed for centuries and I recall as a child watching my own mother prepare her Carrageen Moss mix for consumption as she knew about its medicinal and nutritional qualities from her own mother who had taught on the Aran Islands for a while, where she would no doubt have seen it consumed and passed on the message to her.
The seaweed goodness count is impressive with its proteins, carbs, no fat and tonnes of minerals and vitamins. A true power food from the ocean. It also contains important acids that will act as stabilizers or emulsifiers for foods so when extracted they are a very useful ingredient in manufacturing. With all the artificial elements in modern food production at least with seaweed we know where it comes from and it is safe.
My first professional contact with cooking seaweed was at hotel school by the coast in Brittany in the late eighties and using dried and powdered local algae in fish sauces both while there and out working in a local restaurant. It was very novel at the time but it is common place in world gastronomy now. Only in the last few years has it become firmly established as an ingredient in modern Irish cooking. It is also used in cosmetics, fertilizer and animal feed all over the world in an industry worth billions.
The benefit it contains is undisputed; other countries have thrived on it for centuries like Japan where it is integral to their very health conscious cuisine. They do not live to a hundred years without any special help from nature. The problem that seaweed has is getting the public to buy and eat it at home. You will find it in health shops and specialist food stores and of course online so the world is your oyster. Seaweed baths will also transform your skin to a healthier place.
Seaweed is classified by their three basic colour groups of green/blue, brown and red. You will be familiar with eating it if you are a sushi fan with the dried seaweed used to make the nori wraps or rolls. Dulse and Carrageen are two of the prominent Irish ones you will have heard of. Derivatives of seaweed also end up in your biscuits, sweets, ice cream and sauces and many more food products. There are plenty of innovative Irish companies harvesting and exporting seaweed products now and it is a replenishing crop that nature keeps supplying so it could not be more eco friendly.
The queen of Irish seaweed is a charming, dynamic and passionate woman called Dr. Prannie Rhatigan over in Sligo whom I met one time and she produced the bible for all things seaweed. So, if you want to take a plunge into collecting, cooking and eating our world class sea vegetable then that book is what you need to check out. It is something you have to take your time on but it will soon grow on you. The seaside will never look the same again.