From Ocean to Plate: Seaweed’s Potential to Change the World
Author of Irish Seaweed Kitchen, the ultimate bible for cooking with sea vegetables, Dr. Prannie Rhatigan is a medical doctor with a lifetime experience of harvesting, cooking and gardening organically with sea vegetables. Hailed as “Ireland’s leading seaweed expert” in Food and Wine in June 2012, she has represented Ireland’s finest food abroad on many occasions and has given workshops and lectures on sea vegetables and cooking, facilitated workshops on seaweed cooking with seaweed researchers in the USA, and has shared her knowledge through a seaweed cookery demo at the Nordic Food Lab in Denmark when it was the research arm of Noma (awarded Best Restaurant in the World on three occasions).
As a culinary lecturer for 35 years I was very interested in furthering my knowledge of a natural product that I have had very little exposure to previous to this conference. Like all of the dozen diverse topical breakout sessions during the conference, Dr. Rhatigan’s 45 minute presentation (moderated by Clare Leschin-Hoar) could have been a conference unto itself. My scant knowledge base of seaweed can be summed up as follows: It’s that ancient and unworldly – looking stuff, that marshalled cries of “ick”, “yuck”, and that was to be avoided at all costs while swimming as a child in my local lake unless, as boys will be boys, it could be used as a projectile to elicit a reaction from my siblings, cousins, and playmates; as a culinary teacher I knew it could be used as a thickening agent, although I didn’t do this enough to become proficient with it; also as a culinary teacher, I have used it as an ingredient (wakame) to make traditional dashi; as a consumer and teacher I probably had the most exposure to seaweed (nori) while making and consuming rolled sushi (norimaki).
To say that my knowledge base of edible seaweed was expanded would be an understatement. Although my revelations about seaweed gleaned from Dr. Rhatigan’s presentation were as bountiful as the seaweed itself and too numerous to mention in this summary, the following were capstones that will be useful in my personal life, as well as in my professional life as a culinary instructor and chef.
- within the three major categories of seaweed ( red, brown, green), there are hundreds of variant edible species;
- most notable and familiar of the red seaweeds are nori and dulse, including pepper dulse touted as the “truffle of the sea”;
- brown seaweeds include kombu (kelp) and arame;
- chlorella and sea lettuce come from the green algae family;
- other edible sea vegetables include Wakame, among the green sea vegetables and Hijiki representing the brown sea vegetable group;
- the nutritional benefits of seaweed are legion; among them are high levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant that are easily utilized by your body;
- flavor profiles abound among the diverse seaweed variants, including the spicy, salty, bacon-like dulse, the nutty sea spaghetti, the beefy sea lettuce, the mild chickeny wakame, and the truffle-flavored pepper dulse;
- ongoing research looks promising for substantiating numerous health benefits including seaweed’s antioxidant, anti-allergen, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and anti-diabetic. properties, all of which are not yet evidence based.
Prannie not only provided food for thought with her presentation on seaweed, its varieties, uses, and nutritional value, she also provided food for our palates. She was the inspiration for no less than three courses of an unforgettable nine course tasting menu served at the end of an action- packed and thought-provoking first day of the conference.
Her innovative and nutritious offerings book-ended the nights menu with an energizing and palate teasing seaweed smoothie shot to begin our meal and a nori green tea ice cream accompanied by carrot cake to provide a sweet ending to our repast.
Sandwiched in the middle of our feast was a sea spaghetti and carrot salad.
All of Dr. Rhatigans seaweed-inspired dishes were delicious and nutritious, but if forced to pick my favorite I would have to choose the nori ice cream and carrot cake. Thank you Prannie, for feeding our minds, palates, and spirits, so generously and so tastefully. I for one will look for ways to incorporate this gift of the sea in my daily routine.
To close, I’d like to quote a pair of doctors: Dr. Rhatigan, “eat a small amount of a wide variety of seaweeds on a daily basis”.
Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine your food”.
Apt advice for all to live by.
Look for next installment from Roots 2015, Fermentation in Action. All photos by John M. Sconzo, M.D. Here is the full Flick’r Photoset from the Conference.