Foraging, cooking seaweed is making a comeback
This week It’s agriculture Women in agriculture segment takes a slightly different course. We discuss the old age practice of wild foraging, focusing on algae, which Marie Power aka The Sea Gardener has incorporated into a diverse business entity.
Marie grew up on the Copper Coast in County Waterford. Her introduction to seaweed as a food occurred when she was young.
âAs a child, we were given seaweed as a healthy food. I can’t say I liked it, but it was considered good for you, so you ate it whether you like it or not, âshe said. It is agriculture.
âIn the old days, people, especially my acquaintances, viewed this as a very noble and healthy food to eat. They gave it to us in its pure form, which isn’t really for everyone.
In 2007, she attended a workshop at the Copper Coast Geopark with algae expert, Prannie Rhatigan. This prompted her to look into the algae again.
She began searching for seaweed on local beaches in County Waterford and experimenting with it in her kitchen. However, she took a more subtle approach, introducing him to her family early on.
The gardener of the sea
Additionally, she included a seaweed tasting in an Irish Wildlife Trust outing on the ecology of rock pools. This event in March 2007 was his first workshop, held at Kilfarrassy Strand, Co. Waterford.
âThe turnout was huge and it was clear that there was an interest in foraging, cooking and the natural world of algae. “
This led to other workshops, developing into a regular appearance at the Dungarvan Food Festival at Clonea Strand, now an annual event.
âIt was really a hobby for a year or two. And then a few local food festivals asked me to do the fodder for them. It was of course oversubscribed. “
âIt was about 12-13 years ago. I think it was just as the public started to take an interest in foraging again; in wild food and the general food supply.
She adds that many top chefs have also made it very popular recently.
In 2012, Marie decided to combine her skills from the world of management and education as a training consultant with her interest in ecology and foraging. She graduated from University College Cork in Field Ecology.
Picking and Cooking Book
At the same time, she is also publishing her book, The Sea Garden – a guide to seaweed cooking and foraging.
The book follows many years of foraging and culinary experimentation, which ultimately led to several recipes.
âI wrote and distributed recipes to people. And then someone said, ‘Why don’t you put this all in a book.’
âI had already come across one or two seaweed cookbooks, but mostly Asian ones.
âTherefore, I decided to write a book that incorporates seaweed into fairly ordinary Irish cuisine. The intention was not to write for chefs, but rather for everyday cooking.
Today, The Sea Gardener’s business has evolved into three basic branches:
- Workshops and events;
- The range of seaweed products;
- The Garden of the Sea.
Workshops and events
Workshops and events traditionally start around St. Patrick’s Day and normally continue through October.
An event typically lasts around three hours and involves bringing people to the shore to pick the tastiest varieties.
These are mainly done on the beaches of the Copper Coast. You need a rocky beach with clean crystal clear water. I tend to avoid the busier public beaches due to their heavy use.
âI show them what is edible and I tell them how to cook it. This may involve cooking on the beach. Basically, we picnic on what we have gathered.
âIn addition, I teach people to eat in a sustainable way. We cut off about a third of the plant and let the rest grow back. “
In addition, she organizes workshops and events for schools, both at primary and secondary level.
Sea Gardener products are as follows:
- A range of dried and ground seaweed mixtures for cooking, for example soups and stews, seasonings, salads and stir-fries, candies and baking, etc.
- Protein bars;
- Pure Seaweed: Organic Dried Irish Carrageenan Mousse and Dill;
- Green tea with cinnamon and seaweed.
The products are supplied by several local stores and are also available on its website.
Commenting on the book, Marie says it went very well and better than she initially expected. It is currently in its fourth reprint.
The Garden of the Sea is a pocket book designed for algae foragers, both âbeginnersâ and for those who are experienced.
It details the top ten edible seaweed on the Irish coast, with pictures and drawings of each to help identify it correctly.
Plus, there are recipes and cooking tips, along with information on the health benefits and uses of gardening.
The popularity of seaweed as food
Elaborating on the popularity of wild foods like seaweed, Marie says people turned away from foraging in the 1960s and 1970s.
âEven picking mushrooms and blackberries, which we used to do when we were (missing) children. But 10-15 years ago it literally came back.
“People knew that seaweed is good for them and that it has beneficial effects on health.”
“Also, they knew it was popular in Asia and maybe one of the reasons some Asian health stats were better than some Irish and European health stats.”
“Despite the health benefits, they weren’t sure what to do with it.”
Marie adds that her approach and encouragement is to use algae in small amounts.
âYou can have it in your breakfast cereal, your lunchtime salads or in your curry. There are so many different ways to incorporate it. Eat a little seaweed at a time, but drink it often.
Focus on a dozen edible species
“There are hundreds of species on the Irish coast, but I’m focusing on around 12 edible species, which I think taste the best.”
These include a few different kinds of kelp, wrack, then the finer algae – dillisk, sea lettuce, pepper dulse.
The latter are the softest that you can use right in the rocks, for example, in salads and sandwiches.
Looking at the story, Marie says the evidence indicates that Ireland’s 10,000-year-old hunter-gatherer population eats algae. This is probably due to its high nutritional value.
âPlus, it’s a storable food that was obviously important in the past before refrigeration. Dried seaweed can last for years. And it doesn’t seem to lose much of its nutritional value during storage. “
Seaweed, touted as a super food, is a nutrient-dense food high in protein but low in calories. It is also high in fiber, therefore good for digestive health. In addition, it contains high levels of micronutrients.
“Trace elements such as iodine, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese and zinc are all found in varying degrees depending on the species of algae.”
Demand of vegetarians and vegans
According to Marie, the demand for seaweed is also coming from more and more people who are becoming vegetarians and vegans. This is mainly due to the B vitamins and proteins in algae.
âThere are three species growing along the Copper Coast that will give you all of your B vitamins, including B12, which is hard to come by for vegans. “
Regarding the harvesting of seaweed for personal use, Marie says it is okay. However, any foraging for commercial purposes requires a license.
In the future, Marie would like to focus on workshops and events. And while she is happy with the product line, she has no plans to expand it. Plus, she has an idea for a follow-up book later.
To see her website.
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