Irish Seaweed: From Famine Food to Foraged Delicacy

Amongst the rockpools and sea sprayed cliffs, seaweed is all around, but only recently have chefs and foragers started paying attention to this delicacy.
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Johnny Garmeson
Jul 25
2 mins
Jul 25
2 mins

While the culinary world knows Irish seafood for its Dublin Bay Prawns, Atlantic Cod and beautiful oysters, there is another gem growing in the shallows of Ireland's rugged coastline.

Amongst the rockpools and sea sprayed cliffs, seaweed grows freely, but only recently chefs, farmers and foragers have started paying attention to this long overlooked delicacy.

Ask anyone about Irish cuisine and you’ll no doubt hear something about potatoes however.

First introduced in the 16th Century, this Peruvian import grew well in the fertile Irish soil, and provided a good return on a relatively small crop.

As farmers across the country were pushed onto tiny plots of land with the ballooning population, many families had to survive on whatever they could grow on half an acre.

The poorest among them could just about survive on the potatoes they grew, but when a blight hit in the late 19th century, the combination of reliance on a single crop and disinterest from the British landlords caused a famine that would go on to kill one million people.

In the midst of the potato famine, people could no longer rely on their imported staple, so many turned to foraging the seaweed that their ancestors had been eating for centuries.

Packed full of vitamins and minerals, Seaweed undoubtedly saved the lives of many, but once the famine was over, seaweed was unfairly branded a poor man's food, and fell out of favour in the Irish kitchen.

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However, with more than 600 different species of Seaweed growing on Irish shores alone, each with their own unique characteristics, textures and flavours, curious cooks have looked past the stigma and started a revolution.

Some types of seaweed are definitely harder to reach than others, but intrepid foragers have been more than willing to brave the cold Atlantic waters to source some dinner.

The growing popularity of wild foraging isn't without its drawbacks as the process of harvesting seaweed needs to be done with care and attention. Just as plants on the land need a root system and leaves to flourish and continue to grow, the same can be said of seaweed.

Foragers must make sure to leave the 'anchor' portion of the plant intact, trimming the main body of the seaweed to no lower than 4 or 5 inches.

One of the most famous varieties of Irish seaweed is Dillisk or Dulse. With its reddish brown colour and smoky vegetal flavour, this variety adds a salty kick and beautiful flavour to any bake or stew.

Tasty and versatile, this 'Famine Food', is not only making waves because of its flavour it also has huge health benefits with many containing high levels of vitamins A, B and C, as well as good fatty acids.

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A Taste of Ireland

Known as ‘the natural larder’, Ireland is spoiled for fresh produce and heritage ingredients so it’s no wonder seasonality takes center stage. Irish chefs are bringing a fresh perspective to the culinary traditions of the Irish farmhouse, the wild seas, the old smokehouses and ancient forests and putting an emphasis on turning our attention back to nature.
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