The Irish Times Magazine - - FOOD- FILE - JP McMA­HON

How can we get more sea­weed in our daily diet? It’s a ques­tion I was asked a few weeks ago while on stage at The Theatre of Food at the Elec­tric Pic­nic. I was giv­ing a talk about the im­por­tance of sea­weed, not only for our health but also his­tor­i­cally as a food­stuff that kept many coastal com­mu­ni­ties go­ing through­out the ages.

As I’ve said many times be­fore in this col­umn, sea­weed is one of our first foods. It was there when the first im­mi­grants came to Ire­land more than 10,000 years ago. It was a nu­tri­tious fast food then and it still is now. When we eat sea­weed I feel we are reach­ing back into time with­out tongues and minds, savour­ing those sweet and saline notes of fresh sea let­tuce and dil­lisk.

But now in our daily lives we rarely have time to pop down to the beach and col­lect enough sea­weed for lunch or din­ner. I sup­pose we’ve just moved on from that way of life. Any­time I go down to for­age, I get the strangest looks, as if I’ve just landed from an­other planet and dis­cov­ered a new way of life. Per­haps the next time you see a sea­weed picker, you may re­serve judg­ment or maybe just join them! Thank­fully, dried sea­weed is now read­ily avail­able in many shops through­out the coun­try. It usu­ally comes milled or whole. The milled one ( my favourite is milled nori) can be added to soups ( potato and leek) pas­tries ( choco­late brownie), or used as a sea­son­ing ( chicken and lamb). The whole va­ri­eties ( I love sugar kelp) can be re­hy­drated and used in stews, as a sub­sti­tute for pasta ( cut into noo­dles) or to wrap whole fish be­fore roast­ing ( it’s great with flat fish such as tur­bot or plaice).

Aside from the won­der­ful umami flavour that sea­weed brings to your food, it’s also rich in vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and all the good stuff that keeps big dis­eases at bay. There is in­ter­est­ing re­search be­ing done re­gard­ing the anti- car­cino­genic prop­er­ties of brown sea­weeds in Ja­pan. The res­i­dents of Ok­i­nawa ( Ja­pan) have the low­est cancer mor­tal­ity rate pos­si­bly be­cause of the tra­di­tion of eat­ing un­cooked kombu.

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