Seaweeds are macro algae that are essential to marine life for food and habitat, and they have been a key part of the human diet for thousands of years.
Our Irish ancestors relied on seaweed as part of their diet, handpicking it for their families from the edge of the shore. As far back as the 5th century, monastic writings tell of its importance in Irish cooking.
There are three main types of seaweed, based on where we can find them on the shoreline.
Green seaweeds are those found on the upper shoreline and need the most sunlight and air. Sea lettuce is a commonly used green seaweed. Some scientists claim that these are the real originators of our land based plants. Red seaweeds are found on the lower shore and have a characteristic red pigment that masks the green chlorophyll and helps identify this group. Dulse is a delicious species of red seaweed that is harvested along the west coast. Brown seaweeds can be found at middle and sub-tidal zones. The deeper the seaweed grows, the darker the colour of their leaves. Brown species tend to be bigger and grow in large dense forests. Kelp is a very well known brown seaweed and was responsible for the Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda discovering the famous ‘fifth’ taste - umami.
The term ‘weed’ is a real misnomer for these marine plants. There are hundreds of different species, more even than the great variety of land vegetables that we are accustomed to. And each seaweed has its own unique properties, nutrient benefits and flavours. I know some people may be discouraged by the idea of eating seaweed- but there are so many varieties of flavours and textures to chose from - I believe there’s something for everyone amongst these sea vegetables.