Laver Rhodophyta

(Por­phyra um­bil­i­calis)

Country Life Every Week - - Kitchen Garden Cook Radicchio -

The mem­bra­nous brown fronds of laver can be found at low tide, cov­er­ing rocks like dis­carded plas­tic bags. Im­pos­si­ble to eat raw, laver must be cooked for a heroic 10 hours. Only then will the cell struc­ture break down to re­lease the in­tense umami flavour locked in­side. The re­sult of all that cook­ing is a sticky, brown paste known as laver bread, which peo­ple ei­ther love or hate. An al­most iden­ti­cal species, Py­ropia yezoen­sis, is cul­ti­vated in the Far East in the mil­lions of tons. This is not used to make an ori­en­tal laver bread, but

nori, the black pa­pery cov­er­ing of sushi rice. It was a dif­fi­cult species to cul­ti­vate un­til break­through work by the English phy­col­o­gist, Kath­leen Mary Drew-baker in 1949, when she pub­lished the life cy­cle of Por­phyra species. This formed the ba­sis of a multi-bil­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try and Drew-baker is hon­oured in Ja­pan with a mon­u­ment and the im­pres­sive ti­tle ‘mother of the sea’.

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