The ocean has vegetables too!
Deep within the ocean and along rugged coastlines, mysteriously elusive living creatures hide within the willowy branches of the seaweed forest. Water weeds offer both protection and sustenance, conjuring up swaths of chiffon gently billowing in the wind and silky stringy strands clinging to rock. And if you believe in mystical underwater creatures, mermaids are among the many enchanted beings swimming within the sea tangle. Some are carnivorous and love shellfish (along with the occasional pirate), and others are lovely gentle
herbivores – and those veg-heads eat seaweed.
Harvesting seaweed for food dates back to the fourth century in Japan, with China adapting this practice in the sixth century. The largest consumers of the sea plants are China, Korea, and Japan and seaweed has evolved into a worldwide industry. About six million tons are harvested each year, with an estimated value of around five billion USD and demand isn’t slowing down. In addition to China, Korea, and Japan, much of the seaweed is farmed in the sea off the coasts of Indonesia and the Philippines, and wild edible seaweed is harvested along the coasts of Northern Europe and the British Isles. The largest producers are France, Norway, Ireland, Iceland, and Russia. In Ireland, 10,000 wet tonnes of seaweed are gathered each year from a single beach in Cork.
From aiding the ecosystem of the ocean to providing nutritious and delicious food for humans, seaweed has amazing qualities in abundance. There are over 600 species of seaweed (not all palatable) with 20-30 edible types. They are as different and unique to each other as humans are to fish (with the exception of mermaids). Seaweed is precious and we need to treat it with the utmost respect. No one knows how to be more mindful of it than Dr. Prannie Rhatigan. When she’s not applying her medical prowess to people, the renowned Irish seaweed expert gives foraging tours along the coast of Sligo, Ireland. I had the pleasure of speaking with her recently and she filled my head with so much fascinating and important information on seaweed that I think she must have been a mermaid in a previous life. Dr. Rhatigan presents at conferences all over the world, has published many research papers, and has written a book that includes a handy pocket guide book to take with you when you go foraging. The most important tips she offers are, “Bring sharp scissors to give the plant a little haircut, just trim it leaving the rest of the plant attached to its holdfast and don’t be greedy. Take only what you’ll use. Anything you can’t dry within 24 hours will be wasted.”
We think of seaweed as a delicious component to our favourite foods from Japanese or Korean restaurants but it’s a nutrient-rich addition to soup bases, power drinks, snacks, and more that provides a boost of protein and fibre too. There are recipes galore shared on the internet if you’d like to incorporate the powerhouse ingredient into your daily food intake as much as possible. Dr. Rhatigan also states, “It’s a food for life that is prebiotic, which is food for the probiotic (gut bacteria) that supports the microbiome, which is like a second brain of the body – it’s the connection for the body to brain function and health.”
The ocean veg comes in a variety of forms, but dried is most common and you’ll find it available in health food shops and online. It has a long shelf life so it stores well and can be easily rehydrated, according to Chef JP McMahon, “If your recipe calls for fresh and you don’t have any on hand, just soak the dried seaweed in water till it’s reconstituted.”
So add it to your plate, eat small amounts of a wide variety on a daily basis, or as often as possible and imagine floating in the ocean dreaming of beautiful, gentle, mermaids.
Renee Lalonde, Stifado.