Because Ireland's waters are so pure, it's easy to forage here. Foraging means to search the natural environment for edibles, and it's one of the biggest food trends around. Of course, foraging is nothing new. It’s an age-old custom that’s been rediscovered by the international food community in a big way. In Ireland, it’s an integral aspect of the food culture that continues to this day, with foragers seeking out wild mushrooms in damp forests or picking blackberries from roadside bushes.
Right now, though, some of the best foraging in Ireland is taking place on our shores – and it’s all about seaweed.
Seaweed is a big deal in the Irish food scene. It's why you'll find pickled Atlantic seaweed and purple kale on the island's Michelin starred menus, and why celebrity chefs all have recipes featuring it.
And it’s why slow food cook and doctor Prannie Rhatigan was moved to create an entire cookbook about it, namely the Irish Seaweed Kitchen.
“Seaweeds are enjoying something of a revival,” explains Prannie. “We have become more health conscious and aware of the fact that seaweeds are powerhouses of minerals, vitamins and trace elements. They are versatile, easy to use and most importantly taste great.”
Health benefits of seaweed
Of course, it’s not just the taste. Seaweed is a heavyweight in nutrients and vitamins, packing iodine, iron, calcium, vitamin E, vitamin C and chlorophyll beneath the slimy exterior. Irish moss or carrageenan is rich in calcium and has long been known to have healing properties. “A magic food”, according to Darina Allen.
The Irish Seaweed Company sells hand-harvested edible seaweed from the Antrim coastline, and has also joined forces with universities for medical research and development projects on the health benefits of seaweed and algae. If you want to taste some of their products, then look for dulse: a traditional edible seaweed that’s becoming popular all over the island, and even internationally once more.
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Seaweed safaris all over the shores
Over 600 types of seaweed or sea vegetables – the preferred term these days – have been identified on Ireland’s shores. As seaweed expert Annette, who demonstrates her skills at the annual Féile Bia na Mara seafood festival on Achill Island, says of the local rock pools: “There’s kelp galore, there’s sea spaghetti, and serrated wrack in abundance. It’s a forest.”
Cheryl Cobern Browne, who works with Annette, concurs, “So few people know the value and deliciousness of seaweed harvesting and cooking.”
Prannie admits she has a lifetime's experience of harvesting seaweeds from being taught as child by her father. But she says if you want to give it a go yourself, it’s as simple as following the tide out to the lowest level and carefully giving the seaweeds “a little haircut” at the ends (never the roots) with a sharp knife or scissors.
It’s something you have to sea – and taste – for yourself.
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