Sushi is just the beginning—here's why Irish seaweed deserves a place on your plate.
This morning, I made a sweet kelp omelet with dulse-buttered Japanese sweet potatoes and a side of steamed dillisk. If I'd woken up earlier, I might have brined myself in a luxurious bath full of salt and bladderwrack, but I'm fairly sure the colleagues sitting next to me are glad I didn't. No, this level of seaweed saturation isn't an everyday thing for me, but ever since a trip to Ireland a few months ago, it's infinitely more entangled in my daily diet.
Before the day I stood on the rocky beach of The Flaggy Shore in County Clare, Ireland, listening to third-generation seaweed harvester Evan Talty wax lyrically about the edible vegetable splendors of the deep, it hadn't occurred to me that there was a world beyond the kombu, nori, and wakame that popped up in my takeout sushi or in my omnipresent shaker of furikake. How very tiny my world was then, in the decades before I learned that nutritious, sustainable vegetables grew wild and free under the waters near the Emerald Isle—and especially before I knew how very versatile and compelling it is.
It should be noted that this isn't just a grab-and-go situation, rolling up to the seashore, palming a hand of plant matter up from the sand and chowing down. As Talty explained, his family had been harvesting seaweed off the County Clare coastline for decades, and finally went into business in 2009, selling carrageen (which is used as a cold remedy and a gelatin alternative) and dillisk (eaten dried as a snack, or cooked into soups, stews, bread, or as a vegetable on its own) in a local store.
Now the family business, Wild Irish Sea Veg, has a range of 23 products for sale—including food, skincare, pet food, and soil supplements. In many countries around the world, the seaweed is farmed and cultivated, but the Talty family only harvests wild-growing, in-season seaweed, taking great pains to ensure that the water quality will allow the seaweed to be certified organic, and that the plant is cut from the base in such a way that lets it continue to grow.
The family takes the sopping haul back to be dried and packaged, and then they sell it via their website, in stores to consumers, or wholesale to food, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and retail businesses.
Great, but what does a person actually do with the stuff once it's in their kitchen or bathroom?
In my case, at least this morning, I steamed a fistful of Wild Irish Sea Veg dillisk, gnawed a small dry handful as a snack while waiting, then served it alongside my eggs and Japanese sweet potatoes that I'd fried and drizzled with salty Abernethy Irish butter that had flecks of wild-harvested dulse (yet another kind of seaweed) from along the Northern Irish coastline.
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I approached the omelet like I would an herb-packed kuku sabzi, whirring the eggs together in a food processor with a solid portion of crisp, high-salinity Connemara Organic Seaweed Company sweet kelp until the mixture was solidly flecked with green, and just on the edge of bitter. For this, I got not just a distinctly delightful breakfast, but also an ocean of protein and fiber, minimal fat and sugar (though the sweet kelp contains naturally occurring saccharin), and varying amounts of iodine, potassium, and magnesium. If I were especially concerned about my sodium intake, I could easily soak and rinse the seaweed to rid it of the excess.
Speaking of soaking, had I opted for the bath, I'd be stepping into a tub full of salted water and fronds of rehydrated bladderwrack purported to offer nutrients and minerals, support my endocrine system, and draw out toxins but honestly, it would probably just feel very nice and leave my skin feeling supple and relaxed—not to mention somewhat funky-smelling.
That's a small price to pay, though. The breakfast and bath support a few families' businesses and keep a way of life alive for some people who are doing their best to care for the health of the ocean and celebrate its gifts. I could certainly see my way clear to incorporating more of this into my life.