There are lots of reasons to visit County Kerry, in the south-west of Ireland, but you might not have thought that seaweed was one of them… I was lucky enough to meet John and Kerryann Fitzgerald of Atlantic Irish Seaweed (based near the beautiful Derrynane Beach) on a tour of the Ring of Kerry. We got to taste a few types of seaweed while John explained the many health benefits and industrial uses. I learnt that seaweed provided a complete diet for the earliest settlers, and that it has played a part in the local economy ever since.
I took the opportunity to ask John a few questions about Irish seaweed, and about what visitors can expect if they attend one of his Seaweed Worshops.
How many types of seaweed can be found in Derrynane/ County Kerry? Is seaweed unusually abundant in this area?
There are approximately 10,000 seaweeds worldwide, and over 600 of these species can be found in Irish waters. Most of these can be observed along Kerry’s rugged coast. The fact that we have a huge rocky shoreline (which seaweeds love) and that we are located where the colder North East Atlantic meets the warmer Gulf Stream from the South means we have a diverse and vast biomass of seaweeds. The Derrynane area has pristine waters and plenty of rocky coves which make it ideal for seaweed foraging.
What are the health benefits of eating Irish seaweed?
Seaweeds are high in fibre, low in fat and packed with anti-oxidants. They are a great source of vitamins A, B and E and a range of B vitamins. They also hold large amounts of proteins and carbohydrates and are a source of omega 3 and omega 6 oils. Additionally, they contain plant sterols and show anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
Edible seaweeds are an important source of minerals and trace elements and they contain many beneficial phytoactive compounds such as alginates, fucoidans and laminarins that are not present in land plants.
Are any types of sea veg poisonous or otherwise harmful, or can I eat anything I find on the beach?
We must not eat anything that is washed up on the shore as we don’t know how long it has been there, what state of decomposition it is in, or what animal may have peed on it! You must hand harvest sustainably with a knife or buy sea veg from a reputable source.
None of our seaweeds are poisonous but we must be careful with two types. Firstly the kelps: forest kelp and oarweed are very high in Iodine and so must be eaten in moderation. Then there is sea lettuce. This will thrive in areas that are rich in nitrogen, so we must be careful when harvesting – if there is loads of it, it can mean there is fertiliser from the land running into the water. It is best to gather it in remote clean waters.
What can visitors expect if they join in one of your seaweed workshops?
Our workshops are a tasty introduction to the world of seaweeds. We begin with a slideshow introducing you to the “top 20” seaweeds, then we will explore the rich history of seaweed use from the Vikings to gunpowder to ice-cream.
We take a trip to the shore for a guided low-tide seaweed foraging walk where we learn how to find identify and sustainably harvest some sea-vegetables. On return to our base we feast on a tasting lunch with eight seaweed dishes and exciting seaweed beverages such as kefirs and kombuchas. Forage, Find, Feast!
Now that I’m back home what’s the best way for me to buy edible seaweed?
Thanks to John and Kerryann for this introduction to the world of Irish seaweeds. Even after my very short visit I can confirm that the seaweeds are worth tasting (if you’ve never had a seaweed ice-lolly you really need to try one…) And did I mention that Atlantic Irish Seaweed is based in the Blind Piper at Caherdaniel? This is a fabulous traditional Irish pub close to Derrynane where you may even be lucky enough (as I was) to hear some live music in the bar. You don’t need any further reason to visit Derrynane and try a seaweed workshop!
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