Oct 312017

Why we should grow and eat more seaweed

It’s one of the healthiest, most versatile ‘weeds’ around. Asian countries have enjoyed the benefits for centuries. So where is the market for homegrown UK seaweed?

Was ever a group of aquatic plants more inaptly named? True, they’re found in the sea, but the likes of kelp, dulse, laver, badderlocks, carrageen and tangle are so much more than weeds.

Seaweed, in fact, is something of an über underwater vegetable, with all the health-giving properties of any land-lubber superfood.

Already identified as a rich potential source of biomass energy, research by the Scottish Association for Marine Science has suggested that Scotland could develop its own aquaculture industry and grow seaweed as a sustainable biofuel. In 2005, Japan began piloting waterborne seaweed farms designed to absorb greenhouse gases before being harvested as biomass.

The Philippines has unveiled plans to extract ethanol from seaweed on a 100-hectare site, while earlier this year a Norwegian company patented a floating structure to cultivate seaweed on an industrial scale out to sea, calculating that just 0.05 per cent of European coastal regions could yield 75 million tonnes of seaweed a year and 3.2 billion litres of ethanol.

Seaweed can also be used as an agricultural and horticultural fertiliser, as a mineral-rich animal feed, as a bath, a shampoo, facial scrub and moisturiser…

The one thing we don’t appear to do to any great extent in the UK is eat the stuff.

Eating British seaweed

But why not? With 650 edible varieties growing along the UK’s 11,000 miles of coastline, it’s a vast, healthy, organic and as yet untapped food resource. There’s also money in it: in 2002, the seaweed industry was worth £4 billion, with world production at 11.5 million tonnes. Most of it is grown and consumed in Asia, however, with France, Europe’s only commercial grower of any size, accounting for a paltry 35 tonnes.

According to Mark Turner of SeaVeg, a company that harvests and sells a range of seaweed (or ‘sea vegetable’) products from County Donegal in Ireland, successful commercial cultivation depends on one thing: the presence of a market. He says that while seaweed-growing has been trialled on certain UK fish farms, it hasn’t been linked to demand from consumers.

As it is, what in the Orient – China, Japan and South Korea in particular – is lapped up as a luxury simply doesn’t feature in the cultural and culinary history of this small corner of occidental Europe. Wales has its laver bread, of course (actor Richard Burton called it ‘Welshman’s caviar’) and Ireland its carrageen seaweed pudding, but for all the considerable combined coastal length of the British Isles, seaweed is eaten on a disproportionately small scale.

Large-scale seaweed farming

Having established that people want to eat their produce, prospective phycological farmers will need somewhere to grow their crop. Since the seabed is the property of the Crown estates and the coastline is the responsibility of local authorities, getting permission for a large-scale seaweed farming enterprise would be one of the major obstacles. Turner says too that environmental concerns may ironically be another barrier to the promotion of this eco friendly foodstuff.

‘Since it was announced that oil companies had an interest in harvesting seaweed to process for oils, the conservationist lobby has sought to have all areas of coastline protected. As a result there is more interest in prohibiting aquaculture than in promoting it. As a result the only remaining possibilities are onshore or offshore farming. For onshore farming, seawater must be pumped into tanks on land where the seaweed is grown, as is the case with organic fish. Offshore farming might be viable when offshore wind farms are constructed, as the best edible seaweeds need very oxygenated water, often found growing on rocky outcrops that cause foaming waves.’

The seaweed industry is thriving in Ireland, says Turner, partly as a result of having state support, but also because of the clean Atlantic waters that lap the Emerald Isle. Britain’s coastal waters are polluted by comparison (though nothing like as badly as the waters off China, where the lion’s share of global seaweed stocks are grown – nine million tonnes a year).

Article reprinted courtesy of The Ecologist

Oct 172017

Creathnach, for centuries, with its versatile qualities and 56 nutrient contents, has been the preferred delicacy and palatable delight for inhabitants living along the western coasts of Canada, Ireland and other Northern European countries.  Now its influence is reaching all over the world.

Belonging to the family of red algae, Creathnach resembles the shape of a hand and so got its name Palmaria palmata. Abundant in Vitamins B6, B12 and Vitamins C, E and A, natural iodine, calcium, magnesium, protein and dietary fibre, its properties are many as it can be used in multiple forms. People love to cherish it in different forms and it can also be added as the most important ingredient in many dishes. Some may like it as snacks in the form of flakes or powder while others may turn it into crispy chips by frying it in the pan.  Moreover if you really love this delicacy as a baked product, you can keep it in the oven with fillings of cheese with salsa and microwave it too.  To add liveliness and change to your daily sandwiches, bread or pizza dough and in even chowders and salads, some Dulse added can increase the taste of your meals. Soups and breads are mixed with the seaweed to give it a saltier flavour and are often used in potato and cheese dishes.

With so many nutritious traits, Creathnach thrives in cool waters along the Atlantic Coast of Canada, Ireland and Norway. We can see them growing in abundant on rocks, shells and reefs attracting visitors to its delectable taste. Their growing season is from June to September when they bloom to their full for everyone’s delight.  They can be plucked straight from the rocks and eaten fresh, but now they are also grown, harvested and packaged for its market value.  After harvesting, they look like fronds with its colours ranging from rose to reddish purple and height 20 to 40 cm. Farmers generally pluck them by hand when the water is at its lowest level, keep them for drying in the drying fields and make them to pass through shaker to remove snails, shell pieces or any other unwanted materials. They are then turned to the large bales to be finally sent for packaging.

People towards the west coast of Ireland love Dulse as one of their favourite traditional foods. It is made available to them as snacks through family, through small shops and private vendors.  In the past they also used Dulse for preparing cereals and eating with porridge.