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The Story of Seaweed



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The Irish love their food, and it’s hardly surprising, with the country boasting a rich culinary heritage and enjoying accolades the world over for its fine produce.

 
 

As an island perched smack bang in the thundering Atlantic, our seascapes offer fantastic fish, but what else lies under those idyllic waves? Why, a barrage of ‘sea vegetables’, of course! Chefs are simply going wild for seaweed as a delicious new twist to their dishes.

While the likes of Richard Corrigan, Heston Blumenthal and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall bring this nutrient-rich delight to 21st-century food-lovers, the foraging and harvesting of seaweed has long been a tradition on the rugged Irish coasts. Pull on your wellies, roam the shores and see what delicacies you can find.
 

Carrageen

Traditionally used as the key ingredient in wobbly puddings for its natural thickening qualities, carrageen (which means ‘little rock’ in the Irish language) is incredibly rich in iodine.

The renowned Cork cookery school and restaurant Ballymaloe makes a sumptuous carrageen moss pudding, and even a chocolate version if you like your seaweed a little more decadent.
 

Foraging Seaweed

Sleabhac

The multifunctional seaweed sleabhac was considered a powerful folk tonic, an aphrodisiac and a treatment for gout. In times gone by, fishmongers would pickle sleabhac to sell as an alternative to dairy products for seasoning potato dishes with during Lent.

Known to the Japanese as ‘nori’ and prized for sushi, this seaweed grows wild and springs from the rocks in abundance along the Wild Atlantic Way. This versatile sea vegetable is also known as sloke, and by yet another Irish-language moniker – sliúháne.
 
As it only grows in the winter months, foragers have to brave the elements to pick this unique food from the tidal rocks. Today you can enjoy sleabhac as a seaweed soup, in Japanese-style rolls or even baked as a scrumptious alternative to crisps.
 

Duileasc

Coastal foragers have long understood that duileasc (dulse) is a great source of antioxidants and protein. Baked in breads and scones, fried and added to potato champ or dried and eaten as a popular crunchy snack, there’s no end to this rich red sea lettuce’s culinary possibilities.
 
Today’s chefs and adventurous home cooks are rediscovering the versatility of these wild superfoods as natural gelling agents, or simply for the vibrant colours and savoury flavours they bring to a mouth-watering variety of traditional and contemporary dishes.
 

RUÁLACH

This distinctive, olive-brown seaweed is also known as sea spaghetti, himanthalia elongata, spaghetti de mer, button weed, and imleacán cloch. As Prannie Rhatigan of Irish Seaweed Kitchen explains in the video below, ruálach is usually found in a tangled mass when the tide is in, often floating in rock pools. Adult strands can be as long as two metres, having grown from ‘buttons’ underneath the plant. Prannie, who regularly forages for seaweed on gorgeous Streedagh beach in Sligo, suggests making this tasty Carrot & Sea Spaghetti Salad; a perfect introduction for seaweed novices! 

 

So as you walk the windswept beaches of the Wild Atlantic Way, keep an eye out for these intriguing vegetables of the sea. If you’d rather let someone else do the squelching about, check out local seafood restaurants and food festivals in Galway, Sligo, Connemara and Clare – to name but a few – that celebrate sea foods of all kinds. You might just pick yourself a one-of-a-kind lunch. 

Or if you'd rather soak up seaweed's benefits with a luxurious bath along the Wild Atlantic Way, check out Voya seaweed baths, Bundoran seaweed baths and aqua marine treatment, and Connemara seaweed baths

 

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