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Marine Algae AKA Seaweeds

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Drying Carragheen in the sun


Drying dulse on the roof.

Drying Oarweed

Chondrus crispus (Carragheen/Irish Moss)

Chondrus crispus: branch showing tetrasporangial sori

Phycodrys rubens (Sea Oak)

Delesseria sanguinea

Fucus guiryii ???

Oarweed (Laminaria digitata)

Seaweeds or Sea Vegetables

Of all wild plants seaweeds are increasingly becoming my number one passion. Living on a relatively small island, I am constantly baffled as to why, as a culture, we have not taken to seaweed in a big way. Over the course of the next few years I will be experimenting with many different native seaweeds. I will be posting recipes here. I would really very much welcome emails from anyone who would like to share their experiences of cooking seaweed ? preferably native species, but not exclusively so. Also, if anybody knows of references to seaweed in folklore, fiction or simply has some interesting story or anecdote to tell about it I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, check out the links below. These sites have a wealth of relevant information.

Cooking with seaweed. Check out Prannie Rhatigans gorgeous new book on native seaweed cookery published spring 2010.

Seasearch Guide to Seaweeds of Britain, Ireland and the Channel Isles, Francis Bunker, Juliet Brodie, Christine Maggs and Anne Bunker (July 2010). Published by the Marine Conservation Society.
Not yet published but set to be the best amateur guide around. It covers about 130 seaweeds that can be identified by eye or with a hand lens. Francis and co have also given some funky common names to all the seaweeds: Grape Pip Weed (Mastocarpus stellatus), Little Fat Sausage Weed (Champia parvula), Bunny-eared Bead-weed (Lomentaria articulata), Banded Pincer Weeds (Ceramium spp) and other such delights and marvels.

A Field Guide to the British Seaweeds by Dr Emma Wells
(An Environment Agency Publication)

This is the best available seaweed identification guide I know for beginners. The photographs - of 70 common seaweeds, are excellent. It includes:
Seaweed collecting and shore searching
Preparation and identification of specimens
Key to seaweed species
Summarised key to species
Summary of species characteristics
Species descriptions and images

Freakin Fucus - Guide to Intertidal Ecology and Seaweeds:
Welcome to Freakin Fucus! Your alternative guide to the world of seaweeds.

A Check-list and Atlas of the
Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland

Seaweed species information including images

British Isles Seaweed Images

Seaweed in Scotland (Flora Celtica website)

The British Phycological Society:

British Marine Life Study Centre:
HOME page Index page - excellent links

The Porcupine Marine Natural History Society promotes interest in the natural history, ecology and distribution of marine fauna and flora of the NE Atlantic region and the Mediterranean Sea.

Assessment of the Effects of Commercial Seaweed Harvesting on Intertidal and Subtidal Ecology in Northan Ireland.

(very interesting; of especial interest are pages 73-5 that cover the following: 'Recommendations for the Code of
Best Practice', and 'Recommended species-specific harvesting practices.

Environmentally Sustainable Seaweed Harvesting...

Marine Conservation Society


Cooking with seaweed. Check out Prannie Rhatigans gorgeous new book on native seaweed cookery.

Seaweed Health and Safety

Seaweeds are incredibly nutritious ? explore the links above for detailed information. However, real care must be taken when harvesting from the wild. Firstly, from the perspective of sustainability, certain seaweeds can be gathered in a manner that will not adversely affect their viability. The classic example is Kelp ? seaweeds of the Laminaria family. If during the spring the plant is gathered by cutting just beyond the top of the stem (more specifically, above the mericarp) to leave a little of the frond and, of course, the hold fast intact, the seaweed will regenerate from that point. I assume this can only be done once ? but maybe twice is possible? It?s the same with some land plants, for example, wild rocket (Perennial Wall Rocket -Diplotaxis tenuifolia): I have gathered this by twice cutting it down to just above the root in the spring. It always grows back ? this is not the case, though, after the third cutting. Secondly, there are healthy and safety issues relating to toxicity and pollution. Most of the following information was very kindly provided by Dr Stefan Kraan at the Irish Seaweed Centre, Martin Ryan Institute National University of Ireland, Galway.
There are roughly between 20-40 good edible seaweeds native to UK coastal waters. The variation in numbers reflects the highly subjective nature of taste. The figure doesn?t include any seaweeds that are out right disgusting, but it does include some that are rather bland and require a degree of creative expertise in the Kitchen to make them work as food. In fact, genuine and inspired creativity in the kitchen can potentially bring the number of available seaweeds from 40 to at least 100 or more. There are, however, non-edible varieties. Among these are:

Desmarestia ligulata and D. viridis, they produce sulfuric acid esters. This is the plants defence mechanism to stop grazing from marine mollusks.
Species of the tribe Bonnemaisonaceae (such as Asparagopsis, Bonnemaisonia) all produce volatile halogenated iodine and bromine compounds.
There are other species with funny compounds that won't kill you but make the seaweed taste pretty bad.
Other problems:
Seaweeds are known to take up heavy metals, radionucleotides and various other pollutants. Therefore do not harvest from areas close to places like Sellafield and or areas of heavy industry.
Iodine in kelps and Wracks can be high up to 1-3% of the dry weight. Depending on your conditions (thyroid and iodine sensitivity), this may be a problem. Then again, perhaps it could be a cure? Here is a fraction of the relevant research in this regard:

Detection of technetium-99 in Ascophyllum nodosum
from around the Welsh coast

Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on
the Tolerable Upper Intake Level of Iodine

Total arsenic, inorganic arsenic, lead and cadmium contents in edible seaweed sold in Spain

........................................28th April 09
Dear Fergus,
I'm a freelance writer and have been commissioned to write a short article about coastal foraging in Wales and I wondered whether you'd be able to answer a couple of questions by email, which I may be able to use as direct quotes within my article? My questions are:

1. What are the best foods to forage for on the coast, for those who are new to foraging?
2. What tips would you give first time coastal foragers?
3. For those foraging for seaweed, what's the best way to eat it? Raw? Cooked? If cooked, how long should it be cooked for and how?

1. What are the best foods to forage for on the coast, for those who are new to foraging?
Seaweeds of course! Japweed/Wireweed (Sargassum muticum), Carragheen (Chondrus crispus), Dulse (Palmaria palmata), Dabberlocks (Alaria esculenta), Gut Weeds - filamentous and tubular species of (Ulva), Laver (Porphyra umbilicalis as well as other Porphyra species), Tangle/Oarweed (Laminaria digitata), Thong Weed (Himanthalia elongata), Wracks (Fucus species), Egg Wrack (Ascophyllum nodosum), Sea Lettuce (Ulva lactuca), Grape Pip Weed Mastocarpus stellatus/Gigartina stellata and
Pepper Dulse (Osmundea pinnatifida) are just a few of the really good and easily identifiable seaweeds. Vascular plant-wise, Sea Beet, Sea Purslane, Alexanders and Rock Samphire are all delicious and easy to identify. Shell fish such as oysters, mussels and razor clams are also wonderful.
2. What tips would you give first time coastal foragers?
Consult with the land owner regarding the legality of foraging. Much of the Welsh coastline is national park territory. Familiarise yourself with rare and
protected plant species? just because one may grow prolifically in your area doesn?t mean it isn?t under threat. Learn to harvest sustainably. Taking just one example, sea kale ? a cabbage-like plant of shingle beaches, is absolutely delicious whilst young. The tender leaves and unopened broccoli-like flower heads make superb eating. Each plant will usually produce 2-5 or more flowering stems. If you pick all of these from one plant it won?t be able to produce seed and, hence, new plants. Foraging with respect, common sense and self-restrain is the best way to proceed. It?s also important not to view all wild foods purely in terms of their potential utility as human food. Make a point of learning about the other insects and animal species that form a web of dependency with individual plants. It?s a fascinating subject.
Get a good guide book. If the superb quality of John Wright?s mushroom book is anything to go by, his Edible Seashore: River Cottage Handbook No.5 will be just as brilliant.
Ask local water authorities, environment agencies and other relevant authorities about the local water quality. This is especially important if you want to eat seaweeds and shellfish on a regular basis. Seaweeds are incredibly nutritious because they absorb and concentrate nutrients direct from the surrounding water. Nevertheless it is that same ability to absorb nutrients that can result in them absorbing pollutants.
As a general rule only collect vibrant living seaweeds that are attached to rocks. Don?t ever harvest from the strand line. But, if you miss the low tide, strandlines can be an excellent place to identify individual seaweeds and thus get a good idea of a beach?s seaweed potential.
3. For thoseforagingfor seaweed, what's the best way to eat it? Raw? Cooked? If cooked, how long should it be cooked for and how?
Although some are too small to bother with, whilst others just taste plain disgusting, there are nevertheless over 650 different varieties of seaweed to be found around the British coast ? all edible except a few that will give you a nasty stomach ache. Given such a huge variety, seaweed can?t be lumped together into a generic ?it? as implied here. The fact is there are at least 650 different answers to this question or, considering that one could experiment with drying, frying, boiling and every other method of food preparation and cooking available to man and beast, the ?how? of cooking seaweed starts to present an almost infinite number of possibilities. Having said that, even on the most glorious of summer days ? generally the best time for collecting many seaweeds, you should ALWAYS resist the temptation to eat any of it raw straight from the sea ? no matter how clean the water. If you do, the resulting diahoerea is likely to put you off seaweeds for life. Nevertheless, taking just two examples, Dulse is delicious eaten raw if it?s sun dried to a still pliable consistency first. Serrated or Toothed Wrack is excellent dried to a crisp then broken up into small pieces and eaten like crisps. As for cooking, the best method will depend on the individual seaweed's initial colour, texture, flavour and consistency. The delicious laver of Welsh laver bread fame takes hours to cook if, indeed, tasty laver bread is what you?re after. Then again, as a base for soup, laver is fantastic. In this regard it only needs to be cut into varying sized pieces and boiled for about 30 mins. Into the resulting seaweed stock one could add further finely shredded seaweeds to be cooked a little longer or one could add oysters, razor clams, Jelly Ear Fungus or anything else for that matter. Both laver and the vibrant green, but in other respects similar, sea lettuce are superb for wrapping fennel stuffed fish. This fish can then be shallow fried or, better still, cooked in a sand, shingle or earth oven. However, given the variable cooking times for different seaweeds, for those coming to it for the first time I recommend deep frying in a wok of smoking hot oil on an open fire. Dangerous! Fun! Delicious! All seaweeds can be cooked to a crisp this way in between 3-15 seconds.
Remember too that some seaweed species are rare and protected.

For inspirational cooking ideas check out Prannie Rhatigans superb new book The Irish Seaweed Kitchen:

WHATCH THIS SPACE. Coming soon (ish), much more information on seaweeds (I've been experimenting). I'm going to put up a growing chart that gives detailed info about the 30-40 more common seaweeds: What do they taste like - raw, cooked, deep fried, dried? Can alginates be extracted from them? Can those alginates be dried as gelatine sheet substitutes? Can they be blanched in the sun? Can they produce gells that are still stable after treating under different conditions? Can those jells set water/milk?

Seaweed recipes - coming soon but not that soon. Don't hold your breath! In the meantime try some of these:

Cornish Seaweed Resources

I've just treated my self to a copy of Daniel Start's inspirational book: Wild Swimming COAST: Explore the secret coves and wild beaches of Britain. What a great thing to do whilst out identifying seaweeds!

Last but, hopefully, not least, here's an article I wrote about seaweed for The Ecologist Magazine:
Seaweed Tastes Better Than Chocolate!

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