Plants from the Sea: Traditional Uses of Seaweed as Food in Ireland
Chefs call them sea-vegetables, or sea-weed, since these pungent, colourful plants that wash up on beaches appear closely related to things we grow in the earth. The correct term of course is marine algae, and the industrious coastal communities of Ireland have used many of them over the centuries as nourishing, freely available food source.
During the Famine especially, the nutrition available from these plankton species saved many lives. Coastal algae populations offer some of the most dense and bioavailable nutrition of anything in the human food chain. Today, they are finding a new lease of life both as niche ingredients for chefs seeking connection to ancient tastes and local terroir, and as powerful health supplements for an increasingly toxic world.
Dulse Usage in Irish Cuisine
Dulse (Palmaria palmata) is a cold-water algae, a deep brown purple colour which can be a delicious addition to many dishes and, like all edible seaweeds and , is incredibly nutritious. A beautiful 12th century poem on the subject reads:
Seal ag buain duilisg so charraig seal ag aclaidh, seal ag tabhairt bhídh do bhoctaibh, seal i gcaracair.
A while gathering Dulse / Dillisk from the rock a while fishing, a while giving food to the poor, a while in a cell.
The Northern Irish particularly value Dulse as a food source and it’s available in greengrocer or vegetable shops, and even in the more progressive supermarkets. Anyone who has grown up in those parts will be familiar with the sight of long strips of dulse drying during the summer months, usually May to September, when the dulse washes up onto the beaches. You’ll still see bags of dulse offered too at Ballycastle’s annual Auld Lamas Fair where it’s traditional fare alongside the bright yellow honeycomb toffee.
Known in Gaelic name as duileasg it can be eaten raw, or boiled for several hours into a reddish pulp and eaten as a thick broth. Some Irish chefs are doing interesting things with it like adding it to savoury breads, making dulse slaw, or a nourishing soup.
Powdered Dulse – (Fado or Dilisk)
A particular form of powdered dried dulse known as fado is a powerful ingredient, particularly for fish dishes.
Sea Vegetable Suppliers in Ireland
Learn to harvest seaweed at Broughgammon’s seaweed harvesting course. Details here.